Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Shadow knows

Why wait till it's too late?

Big surprise. The Bush version of the Environmental Protection Agency (the name being of only historical significance) has told California not to fight air pollution too diligently. The EPA is denying the state's long-stalled application for a waiver from federal automobile emissions guidelines. California and several other states wanted permission to enact more stringent standards than the timid guidelines the Bush administration is willing to support. First the Bush EPA sat on the request, shrugging its shoulders and saying it didn't have the power to regulate (or allow others to regulate) greenhouse gas emissions. Then, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled otherwise, the Bush administration simply hunkered down and refused to do it (or allow anyone else to do it).

Governor Schwarzenegger has jawboned President Bush on state pollution standards and threatened court action. Now that our brave president has terminated Arnold's petition, a lawsuit might seem the only remedy. As reported by Micheline Maynard in The New York Times,
Wednesday’s E.P.A. ruling now raises the question of whether the states will sue the agency in order to force it to allow them to set emissions standards. Even if that happens, the states probably would not be able to implement the standards as soon as they had liked. Any legal action might not be settled in time for the regulations to begin taking effect in 2009, as California had hoped.
But I have a remedy.

We all know that 2009 is the magical year in which we will be rid of George Bush, although the toxic impact of his tenure will linger for decades, stinking up the pages of U.S. history. The new president who takes office on January 20, 2009, will have his (or her) work cut out for him (or her) by the mess George leaves behind. Nevertheless, I can think of a way that the proposed new emissions standards for California (and several other states) can indeed take effect in 2009, just as planned.

The abiding problem is that the federal government cannot turn on a dime. It moves ponderously even under competent leadership, let alone under the current kakistocracy. It takes months to write regulations, review them, and implement them. George Bush and his cronies are counting on that, expecting much of their wrecking crew's work to survive well into the new president's administration.

Not necessarily. There are plenty of environmentally conscious people with prior experience in all levels of government—including service in the upper reaches of the Environmental Protection Agency, back when it lived up to its name—who know exactly what needs to be done and how to do it. A presidential candidate who is serious about environmental issues could pull together a task force of such professionals and create a “shadow” EPA, working unofficially on the paperwork necessary to permit Bush's successor to make the new rules effective in the first week of the new presidential term. Just as British party leaders have the assistance of shadow ministers while out of office, serving as sources of expertise (and future cabinet ministers after a successful election campaign), a bold American presidential candidate could seize the environmental initiative from the lame-duck Bush administration by pledging quick action on air emissions standards.

I'm not talking about some discreet behind-the-scenes preparation for future presidential initiatives. I mean that Clinton, Obama, or Edwards (or all of them) should make a point of naming a shadow minister for EPA matters and assign that person the task of greasing all the skids for an immediate implementation in January 2009 of waivers for the states that wish to go beyond federal standards. In the meantime, the states lined up with California can proceed with their plans, contingent on the 2009 approval of their waivers. Everyone should proceed full speed ahead, ready to seize the opportunity the moment it is provided.

Let's prepare for instantaneous repudiation of the Bush legacy on the first day of the new president's term. We want to clear the air!

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