GIVEN ALL THE fuss about what government officials in Washington say off the record, it's
surprising how little attention is paid to some of the things they say on the record. Take, for example, the subject of U.S. emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Earlier this month, we noted that the emissions figures cited by U.S. officials attending the international climate change conference in Montreal seemed dubious: Although the negotiators claimed U.S. emissions had fallen by 0.8 percent between 2000 and 2003, that drop actually reflected the recession of 2000-2001, not any substantive environmental policy change. In fact, as we noted, emissions had begun rising again in 2002 and 2003, and they looked set to rise again in 2004 -- to levels higher than they reached in 2000.
James L. Connaughton of the White House Council on Environmental Quality disputed our editorial; he noted, among other things, that the 2004 figures had not yet been published. But now the Energy Information Administration, one of two government agencies that tracks climate statistics (the Environmental Protection Agency is the other) has released its 2004 numbers. As many predicted, they show a hefty 2 percent rise in greenhouse gas emissions, the largest growth in five years. Thanks to that rise, U.S. emissions now account for about 25 percent of the world's total. When the EPA figures are released, they are expected to show the same trend, despite the EPA's different methods of calculation.
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What, then, of Mr. Connaughton's other claim -- that the Bush administration has put in place "more than 60 mandatory, incentive-based and voluntary federal programs" to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases? An earlier version of that claim was examined two years ago by the Government Accountability Office. Its report, published in October 2003, noted that of the 30 elements of the administration's then-recently proclaimed agenda on greenhouse gases, only three were new programs -- as opposed to existing, repackaged programs -- that were actually intended to reduce future emissions in a measurable way. If it can't get its numbers right, why should we take seriously the White House's declared intention to forge a "constructive and effective approach" to climate change at all?