Six former heads of the US Environmental Protection Agency, including five who served Republican presidents, said on Wednesday that the administration of US President George W. Bush needs to act more aggressively to limit the emission of greenhouse gases linked to climate change.
Speaking on a panel that also included the current agency chief, Stephen Johnson, they generally agreed that the need to address global warming is growing urgent and that the continuing debate over what percentage of the problem is caused by human activities is a waste of time.
"Why argue about things you can't prove?" said William Ruckelshaus, who served under former US presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
"We need to fashion policies with proper incentives to reduce the amount of carbon we are putting in the atmosphere," Ruckelshaus said.
Johnson defended the agency's current policies, saying it has invested US$20 billion since 2001 in research and technologies designed to cut carbon emissions through dozens of programs.
But the blunt opinions of Johnson's Republican predecessors served as a sharp reminder that since Bush took office in 2001, neither the president nor the Republican-led Congress has proposed any comprehensive plan to limit carbon emissions from vehicles, utilities and other sources, a problem that Bush's own Energy Department predicts will grow worse.
While Bush has accepted the notion that the earth is warming, Congress has bogged down in debate over whether and how new air quality legislation should include a plan to deal with carbon emissions.
The strongest measure approved so far was a Senate resolution passed last summer that recommends exploring how to put emission reductions in place.
But the former Republican administrators, along with one Democrat on the panel, Carol Browner, who served under former US president Bill Clinton, said that Bush administration officials as well as Congress have spent too much time debating.
"To sit back and push this away and deal with it sometime down the road is dishonest and self-destructive," said Russell Train, who led the agency under Nixon and former US president Gerald Ford from 1973 to 1977.
William Reilly, the EPA administrator under the former US president George Bush, attributed much of the inaction to an enduring skepticism from influential officials he called "outliers," who remain unconvinced that climate change is an urgent issue.