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White House Gears Up for Assault on Global Warming

But only at a glacial pace, critics charge

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THE White House is trying to keep the international response to the global warming threat off the fast track. The fast track is represented next week by a gathering in the Netherlands of environment ministers, including William Reilly, administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Advance draft versions of the meeting's declaration have called for a freeze in emissions of carbon dioxide, the leading ``greenhouse gas'' thought to trap heat in the atmosphere.

White House policymakers - concerned that neither the environmental nor the economic consequences of such action are well understood - want to travel at a more measured pace before committing to such policies.

``Let's not get ahead of the science or the economics,'' says an administration official familiar with key meetings on the issue.

But many environmentalists and some senators in both political parties are skeptical that the Bush administration is willing to act as forcefully as it speaks on global warming.

``They're just procrastinating,'' says Rafe Pomerance, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute, of administration's qualms about the Netherlands conferences.

Preparations for The Hague meeting have raised questions again about how committed the White House is to acting against human acceleration of climate change.

Last May, the White House won environmentalist credentials by directing its delegates at a United Nations working group on climate change to seek a workshop to lead toward an international convention and eventually a treaty on global warming.

But the move came only after planning for the Netherlands meeting was underway and followed a week of public pressure.

Two weeks ago, when the EPA's Mr. Reilly suggested at a White House policy meeting that he use the Netherlands conference to issue invitations to an international meeting in the United States next year, the question arose whether he should even attend the Hague meeting.

He will. The president left that decision in his hands. But to skeptics like Mr. Pomerance the somewhat noncommittal attendance of the US signals foot-dragging on an issue of importance. ``The scientific consensus has been in place for a decade,'' he says. ``The atmosphere [of the planet] is waiting for governments.''

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