By JOHN HALL
MEDIA GENERAL NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- In her book describing her lonely struggle to fashion a credible environmental policy in an energy-centered administration, Christine Todd Whitman said the great irony about President Bush is that he really is worried about climate change. Really. Truly.
After lashing him for leaving her to twist in the wind at a meeting of industrial nations, Whitman said:
"Perhaps the ultimate irony in all this was that the president did truly believe that global climate change was a significant problem."
If Bush believes it, many of the people around him have not received the memo.
Last week, we once again read new tales of foxes in the ecological chicken coop. A White House aide who had a key job opposing greenhouse gas limits for the oil industry has been editing the final drafts of government climate change reports written by top scientists, the New York Times reported.
In some cases, whole passages on the effects of climate change were deleted with marginal notes brushing off the scientific findings as "musings." The aide, Philip Cooney, is not a scientist but a lawyer and economist who was a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute before going to the White House.
The Times said it obtained the documents from the Government Accountability Project. What's striking about the changes is how completely unnecessary they are, since the reports were not very dramatic to begin with. Why fudge a report from the fudge factory?
On questions related to environment and energy, this administration has been on the overkill patrol from the beginning.
Bush could not have hired a more pliable team player to head the Environmental Protection Agency than Whitman, the former governor of New Jersey. But she quickly became the target of ultra-conservatives and oil state representatives, which picked her out from the inception as a foe.
As a former teenage backer of Nelson Rockefeller and an eastern moderate Republican who favored abortion rights, Whitman was bound to face trouble getting traction on the national Republican scene. But the number done on her at EPA by the energy lobby was grossly unfair and probably not in the administration's long-range interest.
What has been striking about this administration from the inception is the apparent decision to make no compromises or take no prisoners on environmental issues.
Whitman in her book, "It's My Party, Too," said she thought it would be different. After their first meeting, she "had no doubt President Bush wanted a strong environmental record to be part of both his agenda and his legacy."
His political aide, Karl Rove, even told her she would be one of three Cabinet officers who would help determine whether the president would be re-elected. What a laugh.
But not long afterwards, Vice President Dick Cheney, an old friend who had actually offered her the EPA job, tracked her down on the ski slopes to personally lobby her on a single issue. That was reform of a complex EPA regulation called new source review, in which the Clinton administration had ruled that old power plants that modernized would be subject to tougher pollution standards.
Open hunting season was under way.
Whitman seems to have been struck by how "eager" Cheney was about this. He had been named to head the administration's energy task force and wanted reform of this regulation. Many Republicans in Congress wanted it abolished.
"I was somewhat taken aback to find that most of the members of the task force placed the blame for America's energy woes squarely on the nation's environmental laws and regulations," said Whitman.
Whitman was sent to a conference of major industrial nations with what she thought were White House instructions to back a carbon dioxide emissions cap. The rug was pulled out from under her when energy state Republicans on Capitol Hill balked.
The changes she backed, often with Bush's backing, weren't very radical.
Whitman said she thought they would be able to "leave America's air cleaner, its water purer and its land better protected than we had found it. That belief was short-lived."
X John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.