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Climate groups look post-Bush

Expecting a more aggressive approach, they offer advice to the McCain and Obama campaigns.

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For its part, PCAP formed with the 44th presidency specifically in mind, notes David Orr, a professor of environmental studies and politics at Oberlin College in Ohio and member of the project’s advisory committee. Its founders were members of President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development.

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The premise behind the effort: Climate represents what Dr. Orr calls the keystone in a new president’s larger economic, national-security, environmental agenda. The 100-day agenda is “patterned a bit after Franklin Roosevelt’s, with the exception that his was not very well thought out.”

President Roosevelt drew a great deal of political flak early in his first term from opponents insisting that he was exceeding his authority, Orr says. President Bush has also come under fire for what many see as his overly robust interpretation of executive authority. So for a reality check, PCAP turned its highest-priority recommendations over to the University of Colorado Law School’s Center for Energy and Environmental Security at Boulder.

In volumes released in February and last month, the center’s analyses – which cite statute or case law – suggest that the president has a great deal of authority to act, particularly when it comes to the way the federal government itself is managed.

Within the first 100 days, for instance, a president could sign an executive order that sets zero net-emissions goals for federal buildings. He could order the Environmental Protection Agency to begin regulating greenhouse gases. Or he could require federal agencies to include greenhouse-gas emissions among the effects they must report when weighing the environmental impact of their projects.

He could also send a strong signal by outlining overarching national climate and energy policies, which could include a call for aggressive greenhouse-gas reductions with interim and long-term targets.

“We are promoting a proactive president,” says Alaine Ginocchio, who was the lead author for both law-related analyses. “But that does not mean we’re promoting somebody acting outside of credible, legitimate bounds.” [Editor's note: The original version misspelled Ms. Ginocchio's first and last names.]

So far, the two campaigns have been receptive to the efforts, notes William Becker, PCAP’s executive director and a former regional official for the US Department of Energy.

How influential these efforts are remains to be seen. “These documents may help set some general boundary conditions” for action, but historically, the counsel that wields the most influence typically comes from groups with tight relationships to a campaign, says Roger Pielke Jr., who specializes in science and energy policy at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Still, “if we do not say anything, we know what will happen,” says Jack Fellows, UCAR’s vice president for corporate affairs and director of its Office of Programs. “We will not be going away.”