President Bush is certain to face the ire of European leaders next week for backing out of the Kyoto accord, a long-running international process designed to address the problem of global warming.
But he can try to placate them by offering a somewhat counterintuitive defense: According to experts on climate change policy from industry, think tanks and environmental organizations, the Bush administration appears to be facing up to the problem of curbing greenhouse gas emissions at home in a more comprehensive and aggressive fashion than the environmentally conscious Clinton administration ever did.
"The Clinton administration agreed to ambitious targets in Kyoto but didn't try to put in place a program at home that would allow them to meet the targets. This administration is doing the reverse," said Eileen Claussen, who was assistant secretary of State with responsibility for climate change issues for the Clinton administration.
Since assuming office, Bush has convened a Cabinet-level task force that has met several times over the last few months and considered options for dealing with global climate change. They range from more investment in technology to a voluntary program in which utilities would make commitments to control carbon dioxide emissions in exchange for regulatory relief they are seeking.
Claussen, who has advised the Bush team, said the effort has been impressive.
"They may end up with a policy more forward-looking than the Clinton administration proposed or than the Bush administration ever thought they would consider," said Claussen, who now serves as president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, which helps businesses find market-based solutions to reduce greenhouse gases.
"It's one of the great lies of the Clinton administration," added David Victor, an international environmental expert with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "The reality is they did almost nothing to deliver on the promises that they committed to in Kyoto."
Claussen and other climate change experts closely following the new administration's policy formation process predicted that Bush would have more to say to European leaders about domestic policy to cut emissions than about international negotiations. They also suggested that final details of the Bush global warming strategy are not yet fully developed, so any pronouncements next week will likely be vague.
The president is planning a major address on the subject Monday before he leaves to attend a European Union summit in Goteborg, Sweden.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said the president would outline three fundamental principles guiding his administration's thinking: First, the president wants to ensure that any global agreement accounts for developing countries, which would not be subject to binding emission targets under the Kyoto pact.
Second, he wants technology and science to be "important" parts of the solution. Finally, the United States will not agree to anything that damages the American economy or other economies "because growth is important," Rice said.
In developing its policy, the administration has considered a wide range of options, according to climate control experts familiar with the discussions.
On the international front, one possibility would be to remain in the Kyoto process but press for more lenient targets. Another would be to try to persuade other governments that the whole architecture of the Kyoto agreement is wrong because it would force countries to try to meet targets without knowing how to do so.
The experts suggested it would be almost impossible for the United States to satisfy the target contained in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 7% below 1990 levels because in the United States those emissions have grown about 13% since 1990.
"One problem the Bush administration has is there is no way we could meet our targets," said an international environment expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
On the domestic front, the most aggressive option the administration has considered would involve setting a nationwide cap on emission of greenhouse gases but allowing companies to trade emission "credits" to help them satisfy the standard. That would enable the administration to reenter the Kyoto process but press for a more lenient target, experts said.
The least aggressive strategy under consideration would be a variation of the status quo. The administration would continue to encourage companies to reduce emissions and commit to investing more money over the long term to develop technologies that would limit future emissions.
The danger of this option is that U.S. allies would probably consider it inadequate and try to forge ahead with the Kyoto agreement without the United States.
"If what the U.S. puts on the table is laughable and weak, it makes it easy for the rest of the world to go ahead without us," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
In between these extremes, the administration has considered a variety of voluntary inducements to prod industry to reduce emissions.
One idea under consideration would reward power companies that control carbon dioxide by giving them regulatory relief from a provision of the Clean Air Act that requires companies to install the best available pollution control technology when they renovate old power plants.
Another would reward companies that have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by giving them credits that could be traded in a future U.S. or global trading program. Under such a system, companies also could get credits for ameliorating the effect of their greenhouse gas emissions by such means as planting forests.
Motor vehicles are responsible for a third of U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases, so another key policy consideration for the administration is whether to tighten fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.
On the international front, the administration could give more assistance to developing countries to install technology that controls greenhouse gases. This would help fulfill a commitment in the 1992 treaty.