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White House blasted for its global warming response

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration on Friday rejected its own experts’ conclusion that global warming poses a threat to the public, launching a comment period that will delay any action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least until the next president takes office.

The Environmental Protection Agency published a 588-page examination of the issues surrounding greenhouse gases that made no finding on the health impact of a changing climate. The White House portrayed the environmental agency’s original proposal as an “onerous command-and-control regulation” that “would impose crippling costs on the economy” without reducing emissions of the gases widely held responsible for a warming climate.

In a conference call with reporters, Stephen L. Johnson, the EPA administrator, said he would receive comments for 120 days on how the federal government should regulate greenhouse gases – a step that Joan Claybrook, the president of Public Citizen, a public interest lobbying organization, said would guarantee that “the issue will not be dealt with until a new administration comes to town.”

“The interference of the White House in this process is unconscionable, and its decision to run out the clock rather than take action during its tenure in office is a disgrace,” she said.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, Johnson said the Clean Air Act was “the wrong tool for addressing greenhouse gases” because it would require the agency to set separate standards for a large number of industries – a process he said could take years to complete and lead to multiple court cases. Rather, he said, Congress should produce a legislative answer.

Environmentalists angrily denounced the White House for what they said was political interference with the proposals of government experts. The political reaction also was sharp, though some industry and business spokesmen agreed that economic burdens needed to be considered.

Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that the administration has never believed in the threat of global warming or in doing anything about it because China and India have not done so. In an interview scheduled to be broadcast Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week,” he added: “We don’t wait for other countries to do the same thing. That’s what makes America number one.”

An EPA official who worked on the reports said that Friday’s announcement was unprecedented because agency staff did not have a chance to respond to other agencies’ criticism. “How do you respond to comments you’ve never even seen?” the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence, said: “The White House has taken an earnest attempt by their own climate experts to respond to the Supreme Court’s mandate to address global warming pollution and turned it into a Frankenstein’s monster.”