In a major speech on climate change Thursday, President Bush for the first time committed his administration to long-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
But even a quick look at the fine print shows that Bush's proposal is simply a weaker, vaguer alternative to the ambitious plan his world counterparts put forward in Europe this week, and shows that the world cannot expect American leadership on this issue until there is a new occupant in the White House.

That doesn't mean, however, that Americans have to stand still while the world gets warmer. Last month Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, introduced legislation to create a national registry of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. It's a necessary and pragmatic step toward reducing the greenhouse effect, and it deserves the support of a Congress that has no obligation to wait while the president denies science and ignores world opinion.

The Kobuchar-Snowe "carbon counter" bill would require large companies to measure and report their carbon emissions systematically to a federal agency, which would then establish a uniform system to track greenhouse gas emissions by major industry. It sounds modest enough, but it's indispensable if the United States is going to move to an efficient and enforceable "cap and trade" method for industry to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. "If you don't know what you are looking at and can't measure it, you can't fix it," Klobuchar observed.

The real mystery is why the president continues to stall on a rigorous, comprehensive greenhouse gas registry. It's not opposition from industry. Minnesota's Xcel Energy leads a long list of major industrial companies that support a cap-and-trade system and the general concept of a carbon registry that would undergird it. Meanwhile 31 states, including California, have announced that they will jointly measure and track greenhouse gas emissions. That's a good start, and a sign of bipartisan impatience, but it's no substitute for a comprehensive national registry.

Americans might differ over the nuances and details of the greenhouse effect, but they understand that the climate is changing in dangerous ways and that human activity is a crucial contributor. They're waiting for leadership, and Congress should provide it.

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