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6 Ex-Chiefs of E.P.A. Urge Action on Greenhouse Gases

by: MICHAEL JANOFSKY    19 January 2006

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 - Six former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, including five who served Republican presidents, said Wednesday that the Bush administration needed to act more aggressively to limit the emission of greenhouse gases linked to climate change.

Speaking on a panel that also included the current agency chief, Stephen L. Johnson, they generally agreed that the need to address global warming was growing urgent and that the continuing debate over what percentage of the problem was caused by human activities was a waste of time.

"Why argue about things you can't prove?" said William D. Ruckelshaus, who served under President Richard M. Nixon from 1970 to 1973 and President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1985. "We need to fashion policies with proper incentives to reduce the amount of carbon we are putting in the atmosphere. There are all kinds of things we can do right now, and we ought to be taking those steps."

Mr. Johnson defended the agency's current policies, saying it has invested $20 billion since 2001 in research and technologies intended to cut carbon emissions through dozens of programs.

But the blunt opinions of Mr. Johnson's Republican predecessors served as a sharp reminder that since Mr. Bush took office in 2001, neither the president nor the Republican-led Congress has proposed any comprehensive plan to limit carbon emissions from vehicles, utilities and other sources, a problem that Mr. Bush's own Department of Energy predicts will grow worse.

The agency's Annual Energy Outlook for 2006, which was released last month, showed that carbon emissions from inside the United States are projected to increase by 37 percent by 2030.

While Mr. Bush has accepted the notion that the earth is warming, Congress has bogged down in debate over whether and how new air quality legislation should include a plan to deal with carbon emissions. The strongest measure approved so far was a Senate resolution passed last summer that recommended exploring how to put emission reductions in place.

But the former Republican administrators, along with one Democrat on the panel, Carol M. Browner, who served under President Bill Clinton, said administration officials and Congress had spent too much time debating.

"To sit back and push this away and deal with it sometime down the road is dishonest and self-destructive," said Russell E. Train, who led the agency under Nixon from 1973 to 1977.

William K. Reilly, the E.P.A. administrator under the first President Bush, attributed much of the inaction to an enduring skepticism from influential officials he called "outliers," who remain unconvinced that climate change is an urgent issue. As a leading skeptic in Congress, Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, convened a hearing last year with the novelist Michael Crichton, who argued that policy makers should take into account views held by scientists who believe global warming is part of a natural cycle.

Mr. Reilly said, "This is a debate we should not be having," arguing for action over debate.

Lee M. Thomas, the agency administration in the second Reagan administration, said the time had come for environmental and industry groups, the usual antagonists in environmental policy, to set aside their differences in favor of a plan like the one used to curb the effects of acid rain.

"This is the same kind of situation," Mr. Thomas said. "We've got to start on this action. We can't wait."

Ms. Browner, a strong proponent of a national policy to cut emissions, said she was encouraged to hear her Republican colleagues take aim at the administration.

"It's huge," she told reporters after the panel discussion. "It's a testament to the reality of the issue and the recognition that it's time to do something."