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Winner of the 2004 J. OAKES B. AWARD for the nation's best environmental journalism read more

Nominee for Utne Reader's 2005 Independent Press Awards.

©2008 Cascadia Times

Fixing Bush’s Mangled Mess

100 things the President
Obama can do right away

By Paul Koberstein

It is said there are no permanent victories in the war to save the planet, only temporary reprieves and permanent losses.
Put it this way: You can clearcut the forest only once. Species that go extinct don’t come back.
That is why conservation scientists warn us to err on the side of caution whenever we make a decision with significant impacts, and to embrace what they call the “precautionary principle.”
The precautionary principle means, according to the internationally recognized “Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle:”
“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.
“The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties.”
The Bush administration did the opposite, playing a game of Russian roulette with nature. The administration hid or changed facts, acted in closed, secretive ways, and included only corporate interests in its decision-making process.
Here are 100 things President Barack Obama can do right now (some of which will require cooperation from Congress):
1) Obama should appoint, as a member of his Cabinet, a chief science advisor who, among other things, must ensure the scientific integrity of his administration as well as iunderstand and implement the Precautionary Principle.
2) Second, he should reverse every environmental decision made under Bush that violates this principle. A review of every significant environmental action taken during the last eight years is in order.

3) Climate should be the next president’s top priority.
4) Every decision should be made in the context of climate projections.
5) Monitor the changing environment, and track indicators of vulnerability and adaptation.
6) Create a new category under the Endangered Species Act that gives special emphasis to protecting the most climate-endangered species and ecosystems.
7) Act swiftly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to slow climate change, limit its consequences, and give our society and ecosystems a better chance to successfully adapt to those changes we cannot avoid.
8) Avoid risky, unproven techniques, such as injecting liquid carbon compounds into the deep ocean. Environmental consequences are not yet understood, but could be serious.

Corporate Welfare
9) Eliminate programs that provide financial benefits such as tax breaks to corporations that damage the earth.
10) Ensure that mining on public lands takes place in a manner that protects drinking water supplies and other natural resources, special places, taxpayers, fish and wildlife habitat, and the health and well being of communities. All minerals must be subject to a royalty.
11) End grazing subsidies. The federal government spends millions of dollars each year to lease public land to private ranchers at below the market rate. That doesn’t count the vast environmental damage.
12) Stop Forest Service timber sales that lose money, as they almost always do. For example, timber sales in Alaska’s Tongass National Forests have lost almost $1 billion since 1982, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

13) Require a full accounting of the economic benefits of protecting and preserving ecosystems. Studies by the Eugene-based Pacific Rivers Council found that the BLM, in its forest plan for Western Oregon, failed to account in any meaningful way for the costs that increased logging and reduced environmental protection would bring to communities.
14) Do not allow the political manipulation of economic data. An economic assessment of a proposal to protect critical habitat for bull trout deleted hundreds of millions worth of benefits.

Endangered Species
15) Ensure that Endangered Species Act decisions are based on the best available science and improve the transparency of and public disclosure of the decision process.
16) Make adequate resources available to the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries to allow appropriate, science-based Endangered Species Act decisions.
17) Appoint an independent commission to review every Endangered Species Act decision and regulation made under Bush.
18) Investigate all allegations of political interference in scientific findings.

19) Reinstate the ban on offshore drilling.
20) Institute a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
21) Make massive investments in alternatives to fossil fuels.
22) Expand tax breaks for renewable energy projects.
23) Set a national standard requiring that 40 percent of electricity in this country comes from renewable sources by 2020.
24) Update efficiency standards for commercial equipment such as refrigerators, heaters, furnaces, and public lighting.
25) Give vigorous support to alternative energy research and development, as it is critical to achieving practical solutions.
26) End subsidies for the fossil fuel and nuclear industries.
27) Focus research on technologies and fuels that can deliver the greatest environmental gains, including hybrid and fuel cell cars, and the cleanest forms of hydrogen production.

Environmental Justice
28) Protect tribal treaty rights to clean water and to catch and consume fish.
29) Guarantee that low-income communities are not vulnerable to schemes that would privatize or drive up their cost of drinking water.

Farms & Food
30) End the government's incentives for corn-based ethanol production, which have been blamed for contributing to the crisis of rising food prices.
31) Ban genetically modified food.

32) Strengthen international protection for tropical rainforests. The benefits of forest protection to fighting global warming are not well understood. If the current rates of deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia alone were to remain the same through 2012, the emissions from this deforestation would offset nearly 80 percent of the emission reductions gained from the Kyoto Protocol.
33) Protect Pacific Northwest temperate rainforests because they can attain the greatest biomass per acre of any ecosystem on earth. Temperate and boreal forests are very extensive and currently serve as net carbon sinks.
34) Protect forests in the Southeast, which along with Northwest forests could double their storage of carbon if timber managers lengthened the time between harvests and allowed older trees to remain standing.
35) Halt continued destruction of forests by supporting a “compensated reductions” system, whereby a country that committed to reducing deforestation would be issued certificates that it could sell on the open market.

36) Re-open the Environmental Protection Agency’s specialized library for research on the properties and effects of new chemicals. This library, in EPA’s Washington D.C. headquarters, had provided research services to EPA scientists who review industry requests for the introduction of new chemicals into the market. Without any public announcement or notice to its staff, EPA shut down the library in October 2006. Its holdings were dispersed and many journals “recycled.”
37) In December 2007, after nearly a third of EPA libraries had been closed when Congress intervened and ordered EPA to re-open libraries but left it up to the agency to devise a plan. Ensure that the plan guarantees openness and access to information.

Nuclear Waste
38) Ban the development of more nuclear power plants until the issue of nuclear waste is resolved.
39) Reject plans to dispose of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, out of concern for the potential contamination of the groundwater.
40) Continue the prohibition on reprocessing spent nuclear fuel for nonprofileration concerns.
41) Cleanup the massively contaminated former defense nuclear sites such as Hanford.

42) Although a few government agencies and private-sector researchers are exploring the possibility of “fertilizing” our oceans with iron to enhance their natural capacity to absorb carbon, it is unwise to clean up our atmosphere at the expense of our oceans. This approach holds serious risks for marine animals and plants, disrupting the marine web of life.
43) Stop NOAA Fisheries’ proposals that weaken the nation's bedrock environmental review and public participation law in fisheries management. The proposal opens the door for fishery managers to skip environmental review altogether and severely curtails the public's right to have a say in how our oceans are managed.
44) End the “cat running the fishhouse” system of ocean management. Generally, only fishery industry insiders are appointed to the eight regional fishery management councils. Very rarely will an environmental advocate receive an appointment. The system was created at a when the industry believed few outsiders understood much about fisheries. Today, many respected experts work for non-governmental organizations and would make excellent members of these councils, yet their applications are almost always rejected.
45) End overfishing.
46) Ban fishing techniques like long-lining in areas where they pose harm to endangered sea turtles.
47) Encourage an international treaty to protect endangered sea turtles from long-lining.
48) Replace Kitty Simonds, executive director of the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council in Hawai`i, for her refusal to implement conservation policies.

49) Require the use of pesticides in water to be subject to National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. Pesticides can have a significant, harmful effect on salmon, and can damage rivers, lakes and oceans. Bush reversed a policy requiring the permits.

Political Meddling in Science
50) Create explicit policies that reinforce a culture of scientific openness, allow government scientists to do their jobs without political interference, and punish political appointees and others at federal agencies who interfere with science.

51) Remove four salmon-killing dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, recognizing the positive economic benefits that would result.
52) Reopen negotiations for water settlement in the Klamath Basin to strengthen watershed restoration measures and retain more water in the river for fish, in addition to a mandate to remove dams.

Scientific Integrity
53) Engage in a systematic review of all decisions where the science behind decisions may have been altered or distorted.
54) Give government scientists the right to conduct their research without interference, and whistleblower protections to those who report political interference in the work of government agencies.
55) Establish procedures for whistleblowers to challenge scientific misconduct through safe and confidential disclosure channels.
56) Ensure that basic scientific freedoms of federal scientists are respected.
57) Ensure that the public and policy makers have unfettered access to unbiased federal scientific research and analysis.
58) Give agencies the responsibility of addressing concerns of scientific misconduct. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, those systems are either do not exist or lack credibility.
59) Agencies should develop anti-retaliation rights that are grounded in fair procedures free from conflict of interest.
60) Require agencies to make public the scientific rationale for decisions that are based on science, such as the decision to list a species on the endangered species list.
61) Require the public disclosure of the name of each employee who participated in the decision.
62) If scientists have significant concerns about the decision they should have the opportunity to make their concerns public. The public deserves an explanation about why they concerns of scientists have been ignored if the decision is supposed to be based on science.
63) Those who misuse science for political purposes need to be held accountable for their actions.
64) Ensure that scientists and other staff have the fundamental right to express their personal views, provided they specify that they are not speaking on behalf of, or as a representative of, the agency but rather in their private capacity.
65) Ensure employees have the right to review, approve, and comment publicly on the final version of any proposed publication that significantly relies on their research, identifies them as an author or contributor, or purports to represent their scientific opinion.
66) Create an internal disclosure system to allow for the confidential reporting and meaningful resolution of inappropriate alterations, conduct, or conflicts of interest that arise with regard to media communications.
67) Include provisions to actively train staff and post employee rights to scientific freedom in all workplaces and public areas.
68) Give scientists the right to publish their research in peer-reviewed scientific literature.
69) Do not allow agencies to ask scientists and other experts under consideration for membership on scientific advisory committees about their political or policy positions or voting history, factors the National Academy of Sciences has deemed to be as relevant to a scientist's ability to serve as hair or eye color, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
70) Restore funding to the Office of Technology Assessment, which Congress established to help make decisions that rely heavily on science and technology, especially in response to the growing demand for nonpartisan and objective analysis of complex scientific issues, such as nuclear weapons or pesticide use, But in 1995, all funding for the OTA was cut, leaving it effectively abolished.

71) Require the auto industry to offer consumers more fuel-efficient vehicles by raising the average gas mileage — the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) — to 40 miles per gallon on their fleets. Bring SUVs up to the same standards as cars.
72) Offer tax credits to consumers who buy advanced technology vehicles such as hybrids (a combination of gasoline and self-charging electric battery engine) and new fuel cell vehicles that will hit the market within the next decade.
73) Increase access to public mass transit by supporting a bill sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Democrat from Oregon. The bill would:
74) Expand public transportation to help transit agencies deal with high fuel prices.
75) Encourage pay-as-you-drive auto insurance policies that discourage driving by rewarding low mileage drivers with lower insurance premiums.
76) Reduce commuting costs by providing incentives to employers and employees to take transit, bicycle, carpool, walk, or telecommute to work.
77) Help local governments manage transportation demand, and create walkable, bikeable communities that are well-served by transit.
78) Educate consumers on the environmental, energy, and economic benefits of transportation alternatives versus the single occupancy vehicle.
79) Spur the availability of “Location Efficient Mortgages” that discourage excessive driving from urban sprawl by making home ownership near transit more affordable.

80) Support the Clean Wafer Act Restoration Act which would protect thousands of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams from pollution and development.

Watershed Restoration
81) Increase funding for watershed restoration, which suffered under the Bush administration. Money is needed to repair or remove decaying Forest Service roads that contaminate drinking water and habitat for salmon and other fish. The Forest Service estimates that if roadwork begins today, it will take $300 million during the next 10 years to solve the problem.

The reasons for protecting wilderness are some of the same as for riding your bike instead of driving or for investing in solar power instead of coal. We need to do take every reasonable action to stave off global warming.
82) Help the U.S. Senate override Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn’s effort to block the creation of the proposed 128,000-acre Mount Hood Wilderness.
The president should also back bills to create new wilderness in:
83) Alaska, 84) Arizona, 85) California, 86) Colorado, 87) Georgia, 88) Idaho, 89) Michigan, 90) Montana, 91) Nevada, 92) New Mexico, 93) Northern Rockies, 94) Oregon, 95) Pennsylvania, 96) South Dakota, 97) Utah, 98) Virginia, 99) Washington, 100) West Virginia.