WASHINGTON - Former Vice President Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" might be igniting new concern about global climate change among moviegoers, but it's not easing the partisan divide in Washington that is blocking any action on the issue.
More than a year has passed since Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, an Albuquerque Republican, voted a year ago with a majority of senators for a nonbinding resolution by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Silver City Democrat, putting the Senate on record as calling for mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. But the New Mexico senators have not agreed on how to craft legislation for such a cap.
"A bill is far, far away," Domenici said.
Bingaman is hoping to have at least a draft bill to look at in a few weeks.
"We're obviously not able to pass anything in this Congress. Whether we can come up with legislation that can gain bipartisan support is very much an open issue," said Bingaman, the ranking Democrat on the Energy Committee.
The partisan divide is reflected in who has and has not seen "An Inconvenient Truth."
Bingaman saw the movie at its Washington premiere at the National Geographic Society. Rep. Tom Udall, a Santa Fe Democrat, was tied up on the House floor that night but took in the flick at a local theater. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has seen the movie, too, according to his office.
But Domenici has not seen it. Nor have two fellow Republicans, Rep. Heather Wilson of Albuquerque and Rep. Steve Pearce of Hobbs.
In the seven weeks since its release, "An Inconvenient Truth" has grossed more than $15 million. It's a far cry from "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," which broke records in its first weekend at $136 million, but it is still 12th among current movies. And it's still being shown in more than 500 theaters.
The movie shows Gore giving a slide show about the dangerous implications of global warming, including maps showing major parts of Florida and New York City under water from rising oceans.
But it also intersperses scenes of Gore talking about his own life, including the death of his sister, Nancy Gore Hunger, from lung cancer. Gore, whose family gave up tobacco farming after her death, compares the longtime refusal of cigarette manufacturers to admit a link between tobacco and lung cancer to the refusal of political and industrial leaders to agree with the scientists who say there is a link between human activity and rising global temperatures.
"It's such a powerful statement because of the way the movie is put together," said Udall, who is sponsoring a bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions.
"I tell everybody, Democrat or Republican, they've got to go see this movie," Udall said.
Domenici said he's not interested. But if Domenici is indifferent, Sen. James Inhofe is downright hostile Inhofe is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has authority over the environmental areas not covered by Domenici's committee.
The Oklahoma Republican compares "An Inconvenient Truth," which he doesn't plan to see, to Adolf Hitler's book "Mein Kampf."
"If you say the same lie over and over again, and particularly if you have the media's support, people will believe it," Inhofe said.
He said Gore, the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee, is trying to use the issue to run for president again in 2008.
Does Gore's prominence on the global warming issue make it more difficult to get a consensus in Congress?
"Yes," Domenici said.
Bingaman said, "It seems to me we were having great difficulty recruiting Republican members of Congress to support a bill before Al Gore came up with this movie."
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who has crafted but failed to pass a global warming bill, said the issue "isn't being carried by Al Gore but by the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence."
But McCain said he does not criticize Gore's efforts or the movie, which he plans to see.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said Gore told him about plans for the movie at a lunch over the holidays in Nashville, but he hasn't seen it.
Alexander, who also supports the idea of an emissions cap, said Gore's presence cuts both ways.
"Because he was a former vice president and presidential nominee, he brings a lot of visibility to it," Alexander said. "On the other hand it may be seen as political by some, and they may be less eager to be a part of it."
Domenici and Alexander are fans of replacing coal plants with emissions-free nuclear power plants, which Gore ignores as a solution in "An Inconvenient Truth."
"Maybe it needs a sequel: `An Inconvenient Truth 2: Nuclear Power,' " Alexander said.
"The major players in the field of greenhouse gas emissions are coming to the conclusion that you've got to have nuclear power as a principal player," Domenici said.
Bingaman said he has no problem with nuclear power if it can compete economically, but Udall said he is concerned about the proliferation because nuclear fuel can be converted for weapons use.
The Sierra Club's David Hamilton, director for global warming and energy programs, said advocates of nuclear power aren't asking "the tough questions," like where to dump the nuclear waste from the more than 100 nuclear plants that would be required worldwide to replace coal-fired ones.
The Sierra Club is working with the producers of "An Inconvenient Truth" to promote ticket sales. Last week, the club paid for more than 288,000 phone calls to homes with a recorded message from Gore urging people to see the movie.
Later this month the Sierra Club will sponsor 50 house parties. Some who attend will join Gore on a conference call.
"People have gotten a news story here and a news story there" about global warming, Hamilton said. "The movie really puts it all together."
But Hamilton said they want people to see the movie to change their own habits and communities, not just call Congress.
Few of the "politically saleable" ideas being discussed in Congress would address global warming in a meaningful way, Hamilton said.
IT'S GETTING WARM IN HERE
WASHINGTON - The first half of the year was the warmest on record for the United States.
The government reported Friday that the average temperature for the 48 contiguous United States from January through June was 51.8 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3.4 degrees above average for the 20th century.
That made it the warmest period since record keeping began in 1895, the National Climatic Data Center reported.
No state was cooler than average and five states - Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri - experienced record warmth for the period.
While much of the Northeast experienced extreme rainfall and flooding at the end of June many other areas continued below normal rain and snowfall.
As of June, 45 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in moderate-to-extreme drought, an increase of 6 percent from May.
Dry conditions spawned more than 50,000 wildfires, burning more than 3 million acres in the continental U.S., according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Worldwide, it was the sixth warmest year-to-date since record keeping began in 1880.