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Domestic politics and greenhouse gas emission control: Washington's turn to act


The Clinton years saw relatively vigorous climate-change action at the federal level, but the senate's opposition to Kyoto, exemplified by the landmark 95-0 vote on the Byrd-Hagel resolution, ensured that even with Al Gore's signature, the treaty would never have been ratified or implemented by the United States.4 Two months after George W. Bush took the oath of office, he unequivocally rejected Kyoto as "fatally flawed" and "unrealistic. "5 While the subsequent removal of the United States' signature from the accord did not, in itself, entail a substantive realignment of the country's environmental policies, it signalled a sea change in the White House's attitude toward the issue.Throughout his two terms as president, George Bush carefully avoided taking a position on the question of global warming's root cause, often reminding reporters of the existing scientific debate over the causes of climate change. This skepticism about the human origins of the phenomenon appears to have trickled down to the federal environmental bureaucracy and, as the constant stream of whistle-blower reports attests, it strained the relationship between the White House and the scientific community. The Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project conducted a survey of scientists working on climate research at federal agencies, and they found widespread instances of political interference with federal climate research. For example, the survey observed that "59 percent of scientists who always or frequently work on sensitive or controversial issues, perceived or experienced pressure to eliminate the words 'climate change,' 'global warming,' or other similar terms from a variety of communications." The scientists also reported 435 instances of political interference in their work during the past five years, and 46 percent of them experienced new or unusual administrative requirements that hampered their ability to conduct climate research.6Breaking with a decades-o

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									Vincent Arel-Bundock &
Pierre Martin

Domestic politics
and greenhouse gas
emission control
Washington’s turn to act

Did the politics of greenhouse gas emissions play any role in the historic
elections of 2008? And, most importantly, will the election of the Democrat
Barack Obama to the White House make any difference for the US policy
on climate change? Although environmental issues were not central in the
voting calculations of the average American last November, there are
fundamental differences between Democrats and Republicans on the
environment—particularly on climate change—and it does matter at this

Vincent Arel-Bundock is an MA candidate in political science at McGill University. He also
is a student associate in the chair in American political and economic studies at the
Université de Montréal, where he graduated with a degree in economics and politics. Pierre
Martin is professor of political science and director of the chair in American political and
economic studies at the Université de Montréal. His most recent book, edited with Michel
Fortmann, is Le système politique américain (Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 2008).

                                         | International Journal | Winter 2008-09 | 163 |
| Vincent Arel-Bundock & Pierre Martin |

crucial juncture that Democrats will be in control at both ends of
Pennsylvania Avenue.
     We start with a few observations that highlight the differences between
the two parties in this policy area. Then we move on to a brief assessment of
the Bush record, followed by a discussion of the place of the climate change
issue in the 2008 presidential election. We conclude that, after several years
during which most of the initiatives in this area came from state and
provincial governments in the United States and Canada, the election of a
Democratic administration that is seriously committed to greenhouse gas
emission control represents a unique opportunity to make concrete progress
in this area.

Despite a general rise in the awareness of climate change, a number of
indicators reveal deep partisa
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