As President Bush prepares to ride off into the Texas sunset next week, many have begun to examine his legacy, sure to be headlined "Iraq," "Economy" and "9/11." But what about Bush's environmental legacy? James Connaughton, the chairman of Bush's Council on Environmental Quality, told ABC News, "We'll have done more on climate change, including with mandatory regulations, than any prior administration."
But some critics see Bush's environmental record in a different light. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D.-Calif., said, "They have the worst legacy of any president. I've never seen anything like it. They really conducted a war on the environment."
So which is it?
Watch the interview Saturday on ""Focus Earth" With Bob Woodruff" on Discovery's Planet Green network.
Christine Todd Whitman, President Bush's first Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who resigned her post less than 2½ years into the president's first term, told ABC News, "The real frustration [at the time] was around a particular regulation that they wanted to change, and I agreed needed to be changed.
"But the way they wanted to change it was one that I just wasn't comfortable with, and I couldn't sign it in good conscience."
Whitman, a former New Jersey governor, said there was also pressure from the administration to qualify statements on the dangers of climate change, to use words like "potentially," something else Whitman was not entirely comfortable with.
When asked who in the administration was applying this pressure, she said it probably came "more from Vice President Cheney. It was coming through the Council on Environmental Quality, and, in honesty and fairness to them, they were getting input from all different people from different places on the issue."
Language parsing aside, Whitman believes that Bush does, indeed, acknowledge and care about climate change. "He said, 'Yes, it is an issue. We do believe it's an issue.' It's a question of whether it's manmade and therefore the solution is to take very draconian or very severe actions in order to curb man's emissions, or whether to say this is part of a natural trend and we can work around the edges and do it voluntarily, which is what they chose to do," she said.
Bush's Lasting Legacy, Obama's Impact
"I don't think that's enough," she added. I think we do need a cap on carbon. We do need to have some kind of a limit so businesses know what's going to be expected of them. They know the time is certain that they have to reach those levels and we start to really move on this, but the voluntary programs have yielded some benefits."
So what about a lasting legacy? Whitman can see both sides of the argument on what the current administration has done. "Clearly, there are many areas that environmentalists just can't stand," she said.
"But even they admit that the marine sanctuaries that have been set aside are unprecedented and enormously important, that the regulations that reduce emissions from backhoes and tractors that are enormous human health problems the NRDC [Natural Resources Defense Council] said was one of the most important things done for human health since lead was taken out of gasoline," she said. "There are some good things there, too, but people aren't looking at them too much."
As for the Democratic Obama administration, Whitman, a Republican, believes President-elect Barack Obama will do his best when it comes to the environment.
"I think that he'll try to follow through," she said. "What his problem will be is how much he can achieve what he set out as his goals as quickly as he wanted to because he's got this overwhelming economic issue that hangs over everything and has a real impact on energy and the environment and how far are you going to cut your greenhouse gas emissions and what does that mean for industry, what does that mean for jobs and economic growth of the country?
"That's got to be factored in. I think that is going to put a little bit of a damper on it. He's sincere he wants to get these things done and I applaud him for that. What I think he is going to have is the reality of how fast you can do it now."
While meaningful action is of utmost importance, Whitman also delighted in the mere existence of the environmental issue on the trail this campaign cycle.
Environment Takes Planning
"This is the first election I can remember where the environment was an actual issue during the campaign and mentioned more than once, which is a good thing," she said.
"We need to start taking it seriously. We need to start understanding what our challenges are and that we can't just wake up one day and say, for instance, with our power, 'Gee, we're having brownouts.'
"We got to solve that and expect to turn a switch and have it all come on the day after. It doesn't happen that way. It takes planning, it takes investment, it takes money and we have to start planning ahead of time for all of these things."