Refocusing on the environmental crisis.

Repairing some of the worst Bush administration screw-ups.
April 3 2008 6:58 AM

The Environment

Refocusing on the environmental crisis.

With President Bush's approval rating hovering in the 30s, just about everyone has an opinion on what George W. has done wrong in the past seven years. But not everyone can explain what the next president must do to fix it. So we've called in some experts to tell us. Fixing It is a 10-part series to be published over the course of the week by some of our favorite writers, offering detailed policy prescriptions for the next president, whoever that may be, on how to quickly undo some of the damage that's been wrought. One of our contributors wryly describes the series as "News You Can Use. If You Happen To Be President." Read the other entries here.

Illustration by Jason Raish. Click image to expand.

President Bush's environmental policies may be alarming, but they are nevertheless worthy of study. This administration has used every last hammer, wrench, and saw in the executive toolbox to pursue its ideas about how we should use energy, land, water, and other elements of nature. And so when the next president comes into office, he or she will similarly need to deftly deploy every trick of agency rule-making, executive order, enforcement of existing laws, and cooperation with Congress to reverse the damage done by the Bush administration and to usher in a new order.

Fix-it List: Environment

Climate change. This is the green elephant in the living room. The Bush administration squandered eight crucial years by stalling and blocking any concerted national action to slow global warming. Candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and, to a lesser extent, John McCain all favor strong federal climate legislation. If none of the current climate change bills (for a roundup, click here) gets passed this year, the new president must immediately propose a new law to slash greenhouse-gas emissions in the first State of the Union address and make its passage a first-year priority. The fate of the planet—no exaggeration—potentially depends on the United States moving quickly from climate laggard to climate leader.

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The new president should also use his or her executive powers to shift national policy—no need to wait for Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court ruledlast year that the Environmental Protection Agency has the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. The EPA has done little since then, and a new president can direct the agency to start writing rules to that effect immediately. Likewise, a new administration can get out of the way of the various states that have taken climate change policy into their own hands. Where the Bush administration blockedCalifornia's request to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, a new president can embrace California's initiative and encourage the other states seeking to experiment with environmental regulation in their own backyards.

On his or her own, a new president can also spur international action to fight global warming. Appointing a high-profile climate czar—Al Gore might be available and willing—could jump-start international climate treaty negotiations. Heck, maybe the new president can even show up occasionally, too. Back at home, a new high-level interagency climate office could begin to coordinate the economic, security, and environmental dimensions of the climate crisis, which will be with us for generations.

Climate is big, but the new president has other work to do, too. Over the past eight years, the Bush administration has systematically dismantled environmental protections by easing enforcement, reinterpreting policies, and blocking the imposition of stricter standards. A new administration should use the same executive powers to reverse course. Here are some representative messes the new president can clean up using executive authority: