The unease about President Clinton's support of last December's agreement in Kyoto, Japan, is affecting a wide range of environmental programs.
It prompted lawmakers to slash nearly $200 million earmarked for energy efficiency and research into renewable technologies, and Clinton's five-year, $6.3 billion climate initiative is in ruins.
But what worries senior administration officials more are attempts in Congress to bar the Environmental Protection Agency and White House environmental advisers from doing virtually anything to advance the climate debate, even if they are only talking about it.
Spending legislation pending before the House would order the EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality not to conduct education or information seminars on global warming, or spend any money in "contemplation" of the Kyoto treaty being ratified.
"The bill could stifle any informed debate on global warming," says EPA Administrator Carol Browner. She argues her agency would be prevented from giving the public even general information about the global warming issue.
Todd Stern, White House coordinator on global warming, questioned, for example, whether the president could have held his climate change conference last year, or discussed the matter with more than 100 television weathermen as he did last fall.
Clinton already has ruled out sending the Kyoto treaty to the Senate this year for ratification, fearing rejection.
But the Kyoto accord's critics said they're simply moving to prevent the administration from pursuing "backdoor" policies in support of the agreement, which if ratified would require the United States to reduce dramatically the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.
"I want to keep the treaty from being implemented front door or back door," said Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., who drafted some of the restrictive language.
Lobbyists from fossil energy industries have accused the administration of trying to put the squeeze on electric utilities and the coal industry in anticipation of a climate treaty. Burning coal accounts for much of the carbon dioxide, the No. 1 heat-trapping greenhouse gas targeted by the Kyoto accord.
"There's no question they're trying to make an end run of Congress," insists Robert E. Murray, president of the American Coal Co. At a congressional hearing earlier this month, he characterized global warming as a "hoax".
By H. JOSEF HEBERT