Summing Up the Bush Legacy

Last week, Diane Rehm of NPR asked me to be on her show discussing the Bush environmental legacy. As I prepared for the show, I wondered how to sum up the last eight years, particularly since there was so much to cover?

One possible angle: the rollbacks of our environmental protections went from start to finish. On President Bush's second day in office, he tried to reverse standards to make air conditioners -- which use about 30 percent to 50 percent of our peak electricity -- more efficient. NRDC and others had to sue him to get this move reversed; today better machines save us money and reduce  pollution. And now, with only days before he leaves office, eight years later, President Bush tries to strip protections from wolves (for the third time). In between the two, a relentless litany. He was nothing if not persistent.

Another possible angle: He was catholic in his anti-health and environment efforts (small "c" of course). He tried to gut air pollution rules making power plants and factories clean up (NRDC and states sued him to stop him). He reduced water protections from sewage and coal mining waste (we hope the new Administration will reverse those messes). Of course, he ignored his own campaign pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and even refused to do what the Supreme Court ordered his EPA to do -- lower global warming pollution from vehicles. He opened lands all around the country to coal, oil and gas, delayed the Everglades cleanup, and gave away the public's lands for subsidized logging. And he continued to allow high levels of toxics in our air and food. Clearly he did not play favorites.

Maybe instead I should focus on the misrepresentations? He claimed to preserve 5 million acres of wetlands but did not mention the 20 million acres of wetlands from which he stripped protection. He claimed his "Clear Skies" law would reduce air pollution when its purpose was to gut one of the most effective air pollution reduction programs. He claimed there was "uncertainty" about global warming when he was twisting the scientific discussion beyond recognition. (After all, there is uncertainty exactly where the economy is going, but we know it's down and we better act, so "uncertainty" about details of future temperature, even though we know it's going up, should not delay action.) Healthy Forests? That means logging. Even to the end, the Bush team kept this up. On the same Diane Rehm show, Jim Connaughton, head of Bush's Council on Environmental Quality, said the Administration's climate efforts led to a new spirit of international cooperation. I need not comment on that.

But in the end, of course, I just answered the questions Diane asked us. It probably went better that way.

Note: My NRDC colleague Michael Oko also blogged about the Diane Rehm show here. You can listen to the segment here.