A memory of Robert Novak, 1931-2009, opponent of climate change mitigation policy


In his June 13, 2005, column (“Blair vs. Bush”) on the battle over climate and energy policy, columnist Robert Novak, who died this morning, wove a tale of how UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, 11 national academies of science, bipartisan cooperation in Congress, and whistleblower Rick Piltz were all, in effect, conspiring to pressure President Bush into adopting a “predatory” policy explicitly designed to weaken America. Thus, another case of Novak’s internal contradiction between the serious reporter and the political ideologue.

Post by Rick Piltz

See “Robert Novak, Columnist, Dies at 78,” New York Times, August 18, 2009

Excerpted from “Blair vs. Bush,” June 13, 2005 [Originally published in the Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, and other syndicated outlets.]:

WASHINGTON—Behind their brave common front on Iraq shown the world by Tony Blair and George W. Bush in Washington last week, the British prime minister is orchestrating an aggressive campaign to force the American president to retreat on climate change. Blair and the other European leaders are aiming at next month’s G8 industrial summit in Scotland as the last good chance to get the U.S. to back the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gases. 

Blair is working behind friend Bush’s back trying to turn him on Kyoto. The prime minister secretly has lobbied U.S. senators, and British officials are collaborating with American environmentalist advocates. Lord May of Oxford, president of the British Royal Society, was able to convince science academies from 10 other countries (including the U.S.) to demand “prompt action” on global warming. Congress is closer than ever to enacting fossil fuel restrictions.

“In reality, Kyoto was never about environmental policy,” a White House aide told me. “It was designed as an elaborate, predatory trade strategy to level the American and European economies.“…

As Blair met with Bush Tuesday, the report of the 11 national academies was released, with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences signing on in a major shift of position. On Wednesday, The New York Times published a story about White House official Philip Cooney editing government climate reports in ways that minimized the link between industrial emissions and global warming.

The Times story was provided by Rick Piltz, a career civil servant and former Democratic congressional staffer who was inherited by Bush as a senior associate in the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. Since he resigned from the government earlier this year, he has been represented as a whistle-blower by the Government Accountability Project.  Piltz on June 1 issued a 14-page paper attacking the “credibility” of the administration he had just left….

While Blair mobilizes pressure on Bush at Gleaneagles, efforts will be made the next two weeks in the Senate to amend the energy bill to force reduced emissions. The global warming bill of Sens. John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, estimated by the energy industry to cost more than 600,000 jobs and ruin U.S. coal production, was easily defeated in 2003. However, thanks to possible defections by several Republican senators, a mandatory climate change amendment by Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman might pass.

George W. Bush is surrounded by hostile friends. Old bull Republican Sen. Pete Domenici, manager of the energy bill, may support the Bingaman amendment. Within his own administration, the departed mole Rick Piltz has many allies. And in the lakes and glens of Scotland, he will find dear friend Tony Blair winning points with the Labor left and his fellow Europeans.

The column displays Novak’s characteristic combination of elements of straight reporting with wholesale adoption and propagation of right-wing talking points based on inside sources. It is a characteristic example of his unwillingness, or inability, to acknowledge the scientific reality of climate change and its implications and the legitimacy of advocating a proactive climate and energy policy.  This failure caused him and his followers to view the problem through a distorted lens.

His comments on me were a mixed bag in terms of accuracy.  I was not a career civil servant.  Nor, working as staff in the coordination office of a federal science program, was I “within” the Bush administration in any policymaking sense.  I was not a “mole,” i.e., not a planted secret agent – that’s a, shall we say, loose characterization of an employee who observed and reported on what was widely recognized as an abuse of power. (Valerie Plame was a secret agent, until Mr. Novak the reporter-ideologue decided to blow her cover.)  No one called me for a fact-check. 

He did get one thing right:  I did indeed have many allies.  Still do. Never did get an invitation to go play golf in Scotland with Tony Blair, though.

R.I.P. Mr. Novak.  You were formidable, and a true original. 

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