BANFF, Alberta (Reuters) - The Bush administration's top environmental official admits Washington has done a bad job of selling its policies and says the abrupt way it pulled out of the Kyoto climate change protocol has helped obscure U.S. achievements.
Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman told Reuters she was frustrated that the United States received little credit for implementing green policies which she said were among the most advanced in the world.
President Bush triggered worldwide condemnation after pulling his country out of the Kyoto accord a year ago and Whitman has borne the brunt of the criticism as she travels the world meeting her counterparts.
"The thing that is so frustrating to me is that we've never done a very good job of talking about (our successes)," she told Reuters in a frank late Saturday interview during a meeting of environment ministers from the Group of Eight leading nations.
"When I get in these discussions in the international community it very often seems at times as if they think the United States has done absolutely nothing."
In fact, she said, a domestic program called Energy Star -- designed to encourage Americans to be more energy-efficient -- last year cut emissions of greenhouse gases by an amount equivalent to that produced by 10 million cars.
"In many instances the United States is well ahead of other countries," said Whitman. Other such green programs existed but Washington had never pulled them together and sold them as a single package, she added.
Washington also needed to do more to overcome environmentalists' suspicions of voluntary schemes, she said.
"So we need to do a better job at that but unfortunately I will say I think it's more in the way we disengaged ourselves from Kyoto rather than the fact of the disengagement that caused the problem," she said.
True to form, some G8 delegates at the Banff meeting privately criticized Bush over Kyoto but Whitman said lost in the furor was the simple fact that the U.S. Congress would never have agreed to ratify the 1997 protocol.
Bush replaced Kyoto with a voluntary scheme designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions, prompting criticism that the President -- a former oil man -- was caving in to the country's powerful energy lobby.
But Whitman noted dryly that many of the measures which other nations, including critics of Washington, had put in place to prepare for Kyoto ratification were not mandatory.
Whitman said the United States was a world leader in the attempt to ban persistent organic pollutants and had taken the unique step of ordering the country's utilities to cut their emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury by 70 percent over the next 10 years.
Despite the relentless attacks over Kyoto, Whitman said she had good relations with her counterparts -- some of whom were less critical in private than in public.
"There are times when governments say some things publicly that they need to say for domestic political consumption that they're not nearly as vocal about when we're talking on bilateral terms," she said.
Whitman -- a former governor of New Jersey who admits "I knew from the beginning that this job was not one from which to launch an additional political career" -- claimed not to be too downhearted by the barrage of complaints from domestic and international critics.
"The environmentalists are not particularly inclined to accept anything we say at face value, so that's a problem which faces us every time we do anything," she said.
"The only thing you can do is go for results and just keep hammering home what it is you're doing and how it is (improving) or can improve the environment."
Laughs would seem to be far and few for Whitman, who is also under consistent pressure from Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson over a U.S. proposal to drill for oil in an Arctic wildlife refuge which is home to the Porcupine caribou herd.
"He talks about Porcupine caribou but I was able to give him a little grief the other day because we went to the Canadian (embassy) for dinner...and they gave us caribou," Whitman said with a faintly triumphant smile.
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