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From stem cells to emissions, Obama set to reverse Bush policies

The president-elect will issue many executive orders soon after taking office. Experts say he’ll reward traditional party constituencies but tread lightly when it comes to national security.

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“One of the things he’ll be doing is trying to reward key partisan constituencies,” says Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. “Stem cell does that, [as does] international abortion policy.”

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One area that will be trickier is national security, in which Bush issued orders aimed at fighting the war on terror post-9/11. In theory, there’s a danger that Obama overreaches, moving too far, too fast. But legal experts expect him to move cautiously in this sensitive area.

“Those are extremely delicate, and I’m certain he’ll be very careful with those and not do something peremptory or off the cuff,” says Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

So far, advisers to Obama’s transition team have reportedly compiled a list of 200 executive orders or administrative actions the new president can carry out soon after taking office.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration continues to promulgate new regulations and orders, meaning Obama’s list could get longer.

But not every Bush administration action Obama objects to can be reversed easily. This past Sunday, on Fox News, Obama transition co-chair John Podesta mentioned the impending sale of leases for land owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management in Utah. Once those leases are sold, it will be hard to reverse.

The land in question, about 360,000 acres, some of which is located near national parks, would be open for oil and gas drilling. Bush administration officials say the drilling would not be environmentally harmful. But Podesta disagrees. “I think that’s a mistake,” he said on Fox.
Podesta said Obama has yet to make final decisions in the areas where he would change course.

“But I would say that as a candidate, Senator Obama said that he wanted all the Bush executive orders reviewed, and will decide which ones should be kept, and which ones should be repealed, and which ones should be amended,” Podesta said on Fox.

Long before Obama’s election, interest groups have been working up policy wish lists of what they would like to see an Obama administration undertake.

“We have a long laundry list of things,” says Cathy Duvall, national political director of the Sierra Club.

But she mentions two items her organization would like prioritized: regulation of CO2 as a pollutant and granting California its waiver on vehicle emissions.

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