Editorial: Late and Lame on Warming (New York Times)

Even allowing for the low expectations we bring to any lame-duck president's final State of the Union address, President Bush's brief discussion of climate change seemed especially disconnected from reality: from the seriousness and urgency of the problem and from his own responsibility for obstructing progress.

His call for a new international agreement to address global warming was disingenuous, coming as it did from a president who rejected the Kyoto Protocol as soon as he moved into the White House. His promise to work with other nations on new, low-carbon technologies is one he has been unveiling for the last seven years.

We were told that Mr. Bush's thinking on global warming had evolved. So there were slim hopes that, after years of stonewalling, he might agree to work with Congress on a mandatory program of capping carbon emissions. That would begin to address the problem at home and give the United States the credibility it needs to press other major emitters like China to act. No such luck. Mr. Bush remains wedded to a voluntary approach that has not inspired industry to take aggressive action.

Meanwhile, the stonewalling continues. Despite heavy pressure from Congress and many state governors, the Environmental Protection Agency shows no sign of reversing its decision to prohibit California and more than a dozen other states from moving forward with aggressive measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

Nor has the E.P.A. made any visible effort to comply with the Supreme Court's landmark decision last spring requiring the agency to begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. Mr. Bush said he would follow the court's order and the E.P.A. promised at least a draft of new regulations by last fall. We are still waiting.

The administration has long trumpeted technology, not regulation, as the answer. There was no trumpeting last week, when it unexpectedly canceled FutureGen — its much-touted, $1.8 billion attempt to develop a cutting-edge coal plant that would turn coal to gas, strip out and store underground the carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change, and then burn the remaining gas to produce hydrogen and electricity. And what of Mr. Bush's hydrogen-powered Freedom Car? That, too, has receded from view.

These setbacks do not mean that government should not seek new technologies to address global warming. Continuing research at all levels is vital. The error is placing too much faith in grandiose projects and technological leaps to solve a problem that is urgently here and now. The most realistic path to reducing global warming gases is to limit emissions across the economy by putting a price on carbon. That would give private industry strong incentives to develop greater efficiencies and cleaner fuels.

This is the path called for in a bill now before Congress. Sponsored by Senator John Warner and Senator Joseph Lieberman, it would impose binding targets on greenhouse gas emissions. It is also the course that Mr. Bush has stubbornly and dismayingly resisted since he arrived in Washington. With a year left in office, Mr. Bush could still make a difference — but not with more empty promises and obstruction.