As Hurricane Katrina dismantles Mississippi's Gulf Coast, it's worth recalling the central role that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour played in derailing the Kyoto Protocol and kiboshing President Bush's iron-clad campaign promise to regulate CO2.
In March of 2001, just two days after EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman's strong statement affirming Bush's CO2 promise former RNC Chief Barbour responded with an urgent memo to the White House.
Barbour, who had served as RNC Chair and Bush campaign strategist, was now representing the president's major donors from the fossil fuel industry who had enlisted him to map a Bush energy policy that would be friendly to their interests. His credentials ensured the new administration's attention.
The document, titled "Bush-Cheney Energy Policy & CO2," was addressed to Vice President Cheney, whose energy task force was then gearing up, and to several high-ranking officials with strong connections to energy and automotive concerns keenly interested in the carbon dioxide issue, including Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Commerce Secretary Don Evans, White House chief of staff Andy Card and legislative liaison Nick Calio. Barbour pointedly omitted the names of Whitman and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, both of whom were on record supporting CO2 caps. Barbour's memo chided these administration insiders for trying to address global warming which Barbour dismissed as a radical fringe issue.
"A moment of truth is arriving," Barbour wrote, "in the form of a decision whether this Administration's policy will be to regulate and/or tax CO2 as a pollutant. The question is whether environmental policy still prevails over energy policy with Bush-Cheney, as it did with Clinton-Gore." He derided the idea of regulating CO2 as "eco-extremism," and chided them for allowing environmental concerns to "trump good energy policy, which the country has lacked for eight years."
The memo had impact. "It was terse and highly effective, written for people without much time by a person who controls the purse strings for the Republican Party," said John Walke, a high-ranking air quality official in the Clinton administration.
On March 13, Bush reversed his previous position, announcing he would not back a CO2 restriction using the language and rationale provided by Barbour. Echoing Barbour's memo, Bush said he opposed mandatory CO2 caps, due to "the incomplete state of scientific knowledge" about global climate change.
Well, the science is clear. This month, a study published in the journal Nature by a renowned MIT climatologist linked the increasing prevalence of destructive hurricanes to human-induced global warming.
Now we are all learning what it's like to reap the whirlwind of fossil fuel dependence which Barbour and his cronies have encouraged. Our destructive addiction has given us a catastrophic war in the Middle East and--now--Katrina is giving our nation a glimpse of the climate chaos we are bequeathing our children.
In 1998, Republican icon Pat Robertson warned that hurricanes were likely to hit communities that offended God. Perhaps it was Barbour's memo that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings for the Mississippi coast. [UPDATE: Alas, the reprieve for New Orleans was only temporary. But Haley Barbour still has much to answer for.]