The headline in an e-newsletter trumpeted: "Bush Plans for Environmental Legacy." And apparently it wasn’t a joke.
Bush is being pressed to protect the largest underwater canyon on Earth and some scattered atolls in the Pacific as national monuments. Bush may think it’s OK to protect America’s environment as long as it’s in the ocean thousand miles away from the mainland. (Should we ask for a national park in Iraq? He might like that too.)
At the same time, of course, he was pressing a slightly different environmental legacy for the oceans: stripping protection from much of America’s coastline from petroleum drilling. And with the help of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, he got what he wanted.
But Bush’s more enduring environmental legacy will be on the mainland. A forest of drill rigs sprouting in the West while the protection of roadless forest areas was attacked. The political manipulation of science to undermine endangered species. Eight years of know-nothingism and do-nothingism on global climate change.
And in the last month he’s worked to cement his legacy on two issues discussed here before: the (mis)management of millions of acres of potential wilderness in Utah, and opening up the West to oil shale development.
On Utah wilderness, he did what was predicted, rushing to finalize plans for 11 million acres of land owned by all Americans. True to form, the plans dicatate that vast swathes of land holding archeological treasures, stunning redrock wildlands, and important wildlife habitat be open for drilling and criss-crossed by a hundreds of miles of damaging dirt-bike and all-terrain vehicle trails. Conservationists will continue to battle the plans, may sue to overturn them, and may someday win (or convince the next president to rethink them). The damage in the meantime—and over the 10-20 year life of the plans—may be irreversible.
On oil shale development—which could damage lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming—members of the House and Senate have been so worried about this land-scraping, water- and energy-sucking technology that they barred Bush from finalizing regulations that could permit hasty development to go forward. To their credit, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, and much of Colorado’s congressional delegation have been fighting this nasty technology for years. But last week, Bush apparently told Congress that he’d veto funding the government for the next four months unless the oil shale regulation ban was removed.
You heard that right. Bush threatened to shut down the U.S. government unless his green legacy could include green-lighting a technology that, for the last forty years, has always been just a few years from being feasible. Livid Colorado legislators may still have some tricks up their sleaves to make sure any oil shale development is done in the most sensitive way possible. But Bush’s tough tactics show that he doesn’t care about Western worries or the environment.
While there are just 112 days left (but who’s counting?) in Bush’s presidency, his "legacy" is likely to be a scar on the West that lasts for generations.