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Republicans questioning GOP environmental policy

By Sharon Collins
CNN Headline News

McCain and Lieberman
Sen. John McCain, left, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman discuss plans for helping to reduce global warming at a news conference this month in Washington.

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(CNN) -- The Bush administration has been under fire from green groups who say the White House is rolling back environmental protections in favor of big business.

Some of the criticism is coming from within the GOP. This particular group of Republicans says it's time to speak up for the environment and take action on issues such as global warming.

They point out that earlier Republican administrations were responsible for such landmark environmental reforms as the National Environmental Policy Act, Environmental Protection Agency and creation of new national parks.

Martha Marks, founder and President of REP America (Republicans for Environmental Protection), said she believes the current Republican Party is on the wrong side of environmental issues.

"We would like to see them take positive proactive steps to protect our public land, protect our air and our water," she said. "We would love to see them aggressively pursue energy conservation. It's a serious issue."

But Marks said she does see environmental "heroes" in the party. One of them is U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. He has joined forces with U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, to introduce a bill in Congress that would set a national standard on greenhouse gas emissions from industry.

McCain opened a Senate Commerce Committee meeting by expressing concern about climate change. "We are talking about a very difficult, a very complex and a very controversial issue," McCain said, "but one which I think is of the absolute most critical importance to the future of this nation and the world."

Another Republican on Marks' list of heroes is New York Gov. George Pataki. In his State of the State address, Pataki said within 10 years he wants his state to get one fourth of its electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind power. He also addressed greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

"Let's reform and refinance the Superfund," Pataki said, referring to the federal program to clean up hazardous waste sites. "And let's work to reduce greenhouse gases by adopting the carbon dioxide emission standards for motor vehicles, which were recently proposed by the state of California."

Marks said a growing number of Republicans are also worried about U.S. dependency on Middle Eastern oil and the potential of war with Iraq.

Last summer the Bush administration reversed its skepticism about the existence of global warming with the U.S. Climate Action Report 2002. President Bush said, "While scientific uncertainties remain, we can now begin to address the factors that contribute to climate change."

However, the administration did not see the report as conclusive evidence that global warming is a real and current threat. "This report shows what is known and certain, and that which is unknown or surmised," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "For instance, it concludes that the Earth is warming. But it is inconclusive on why -- whether it's man-made causes or whether it's natural causes."

The question remains now whether Bush will do enough to satisfy the environmentalists in his party.

Marks warns, "If the Republican Party, my party, chooses to interpret their wins this year and the presidential win in 2000 as a mandate for anti-environmental laws and anti-environmental action -- and I am afraid that is exactly what they are doing -- they will suffer the consequences in future elections."

Marty Maxwell contributed to this report.

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