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Bush was hands-on for education, healthcare; hands-off for planet

No Child Left Behind and Medicare expansion were bold strokes. On global warming, he moved glacially.

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Critics say the program is too complex for many seniors to navigate and leaves too many paying high out-of-pocket drug costs. At $40 billion a year, it is also more expensive than it should be primarily because the government cannot negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for discounts, they say.

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Funding infusions for community health centers in medically underserved areas allowed a doubling of the number of people the centers serve, to 18 million, reports the National Association of Community Health Centers. As many as 58 million Americans live in areas where medical care is still not available, according to a recent study, but even critics credit Bush for continuing to expand community health centers.

– Alexandra Marks

Environment and energy

Global warming, and its tightly coupled energy-policy dimension, is arguably the highest-profile issue to frame assessments of Bush's environmental and energy legacy.

Rather than adhere to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol's insistence on actual emission reductions, Bush opted to set a US target for greenhouse-gas "intensity" – a measure of emissions per given amount of economic activity. Later, his administration blocked California's bid to curtail carbon dioxide output from cars as part of that state's broad plan to combat climate change.

During his tenure, he remained a friend of fossil-fuel-based industries, opening some offshore areas to oil exploration and millions of acres of once-protected lands to oil and gas drilling. Older factories, power plants, and refineries were able to delay or avoid installing the latest pollution-control technology as a condition of plant expansions or upgrades, critics charge.

The Bush White House took no significant action to reduce global-warming-related emissions, says David Doniger, climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He sums up Bush's legacy on energy and the environment in two words: "overwhelmingly destructive."

Yet on some air-quality issues, Bush got tougher. Tighter emissions standards are in place for diesel-driven locomotives, tug boats, barges, and ferries, as well as for small gasoline engines in equipment like lawn mowers and snowblowers

Oceans will benefit from Bush's actions. He set aside more fragile marine areas for conservation than any leader in history. On international resource-conservation issues, the administration backed efforts to stem illegal logging and trafficking in wildlife, protect sharks and end destructive fishing practices, and add a new class of chemicals to the Montreal Protocol, among others, says Claudia McMurray, assistant secretary of State for oceans, environment, and science.

The White House is also poised to lay out a new policy on the Arctic. It will call for strong environmental safeguards in the fragile region, according to press reports.

Peter N. Spotts