Who Turned Dubya (Briefly) Green?

One of the deeper mysteries surrounding Bush’s flip-flop on global warming is why Bush favored requiring power plants to reduce CO2 emissions in the first place. Throughout the campaign, Bush opposed the Kyoto Treaty on global warming. At the second presidential debate, he was asked by Jim Lehrer whether new regulations were called for to address global warming. Although Bush had come out in favor of reducing CO2 emissions only two weeks before, his answer made it sound like he opposed CO2 reductions:

I think it’s an issue that we need to take very seriously. But I don’t think we know the solution to global warming yet. And I don’t think we’ve got all the facts before we make decisions. I tell you one thing I’m not going to do is I’m not going to let the United States carry the burden for cleaning up the world’s air. Like Kyoto Treaty would have done. China and India were exempted from that treaty. I think we need to be more even-handed, as evidently 99 senators–I think it was 99 senators supported that position.

Why did Bush disguise the fact that his campaign had proposed a much more aggressive approach to global warming than Gore? After all, this wasn’t the primaries; Bush was fighting Gore for swing votes. Why not show up Gore as all talk and no action? One little-discussed explanation is that Bush’s position on CO2 was a quiet favor to Kenneth Lay, chairman of Enron, the Houston-based energy company. In the March 19 U.S. News, Marianne Lavelle writes,

Many observers believe the key influence has been business. Kenneth Lay, a close Bush friend and major campaign contributor, has been in the vanguard of businesses active on global warming. The chairman of Enron Corp., Lay stands to gain substantially from carbon control, not only as the largest North American trader of natural gas (less polluting than oil and coal) but because of the company’s burgeoning energy-efficiency business.

Lay has been described as Dubya’s “No. 1 career patron.” He was one of Bush’s “Pioneers,” a group of 214 fund-raisers distinguished by having raised more than $100,000 for the Bush campaign. Lay also gave $100,000 to the Bush-Cheney inaugural committee and, with his wife, $10,000 to the Florida recount. Lay’s company, Enron, gave the Republicans $1,173,990 in soft money donations during the 2000 election cycle and kicked in an additional $100,000  for the inauguration.

Chatterbox isn’t suggesting a quid pro quo of the sort that Rep. Dan Burton suspects Bill Clinton granted to Democratic fund-raiser Denise Rich. Even if such a quid pro quo existed, Bush’s reversal would make it a dead letter. Still, the notion that Bush hugged a tree in order to pacify a corporate baron does play havoc with one’s preconceived notions about the evils of soft money and the virtues of environmental regulation. On the other hand, the coal industry, which has the most to lose from the regulation of CO2, contributed $3,368,437 to Republicans during the 2000 election cycle, and perhaps in the end this helped Bush to change his mind. If so, campaign finance reform may not be a bad idea after all.