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Is Bush Ready To Take The Plunge?

Well, this is unexpected. The front page of today's Washington Times says that Bush may reverse his stance on climate legislation—and soon:

President Bush is poised to change course and announce as early as this week that he wants Congress to pass a bill to combat global warming, and will lay out principles for what that should include.

Specifics of the policy are still being fiercely debated, but Bush administration officials have told Republicans in Congress that they feel pressure to act now because they fear a coming regulatory nightmare. It would be the first time Mr. Bush has called for statutory authority on the subject.

Uh huh, I'll believe it when I see it, but there is a certain logic here. Industry groups aren't stupid. They know that the 2008 elections will likely usher in a more Democratic Senate, plus Barack Obama or John McCain in the White House. That's why, as Joe Lieberman told reporters last year, polluters see a cap-and-trade bill as inevitable and "want the rules of the road to be set by an administration that is viewed as a friend of fossil-fuel industries." I wouldn't be surprised if some of them are begging Bush to endorse a loophole-ridden "compromise" climate bill that could squeak through Congress and defuse public pressure for anything more robust.

Already, environmental groups like the Sierra Club have argued that Lieberman-Warner—the most viable cap-and-trade bill in the current Senate—still has too many flaws, and have hinted that waiting until next year would be preferable to passing a defective bill. On the other hand, some Democrats, along with groups like Environmental Defense, have suggested that it's smarter to pass a weak bill now and worry about tweaking it later. If Bush put his support behind a flimsy climate bill (and no doubt he'd want something even flimsier than Lieberman-Warner), this debate would suddenly become a lot more urgent.

--Bradford Plumer