Washington: Shades Of Green

Before moving into the White House, George W. Bush built the kind of vacation home that Al Gore might have designed. His Texas ranch captures rain and wastewater for landscaping. Solar panels line the roof and an underground geothermal system provides heating and air conditioning. There's even a protected forest that is home to the rare golden-cheeked warbler.

Unlike his caricature, Bush is not monochromatic when it comes to the environment. During the final weeks of the 2000 campaign, he lampooned Gore's plans to cut taxes for those living a green lifestyle. "How many of you own a hybrid electric-gasoline-engine vehicle?" he would ask at rallies. "How many of you have a rooftop photovoltaic system?"

But following his green-tinted State of the Union address in January, Bush now travels the country promoting both hybrid vehicles and solar power. In June he created a huge national monument around the remote northwestern islands of Hawaii.

Has Bush turned green in his six years in office? Both environmentalists and the White House say no--but for different reasons. To activists, Bush's record is unremittingly bad. They accuse him of relaxing clean-air standards on power plants and refineries, and of blocking Kyoto-style measures to halt global warming. They even question the sincerity of his plan to protect the Hawaiian Islands, given the Navy's nearby use of powerful sonar that can harm whales. "Whatever motivated him to build a green ranch before he was president hasn't been translated at all into policy," says Frances Beinecke of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

On the other side, Bush's aides say the president is unchanged--he has always been an ardent conservationist--and have their own take on his record. On the highways, Bush has set rules to improve the fuel consumption of light trucks and SUVs. In the air, he has proposed the first-ever cut in mercury emissions from power plants. And on global warming, the most controversial part of his green scorecard, Bush acknowledged back in June 2001 that the National Academy of Sciences believed climate change was "due in large part to human activity." The dispute is what to do about that warming. Bush thinks new technologies--not treaties--can save the day.

While the debate about Bush rages on, the political landscape is changing. Green proponents are looking to new GOP leaders like Sen. John McCain (the 2008 front runner), as well as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who supports caps on greenhouse gases in California.

Some of Bush's underlings are struggling to keep up with the greener approach to energy. The day after Bush promoted renewables in his State of the Union, the Energy Department laid off 32 people at its renewable-energy lab in Colorado. They got their jobs back the day before a certain VIP toured the lab: one George W. Bush. Greening the government is sometimes harder than greening a ranch.

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