The White House
The White House

What Bush Got Right

Cheaper Gore-Tex, cleaner diesel, and five other things George W. Bush got right.

The White House

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As President Obama takes office, many are calling for him to aim a union-operated wrecking ball at every policy from the past eight years. Not so fast. We did some sleuthing—and heard more than a few cries of “You’re looking for what?&#148″to come up with a list of Bushian ideas that actually worked.

1. A Big, Wet Park*

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, a Montana-size patch of ocean encompassing most of the outlying Hawaiian Islands, is a massive conservation achievement. Starting in 2001, James Connaughton, the president’s chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, began researching the project. In April 2006, ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau came to the White House to wow the president and Laura Bush with a private screening of his film Voyage to Kure, shot in the area. And on June 15, two days before Dubya was to announce the new sanctuary, he upgraded the plan. Says Connaughton: “The president said to me, ‘Jimmy, I don’t want to propose a sanctuary. I want to make a monument.'” And he did.

*On January 6, 2009 Bush said he would designate three new marine national monuments, an additional 195,280 square miles of protected zones.

2. More Rangers

Among the beneficiaries of Bush’s 2008 budget were the national parks, which got $208 million more than in 2007 for operations—an 11.8 percent increase. (Most years, it’s more like 3.5 percent.) Even better, because the cash is earmarked for operating costs, it’ll go to things like hiring and outfitting new rangers instead of building visitor centers and RV hookups. The parks still face daunting challenges, of course. A recent report by the National Parks Conservation Association cites development on park borders, air pollution, and other ills.

3. Longer Days

Included in the 2005 energy bill was the addition of an extra month of daylight saving time, starting in 2007. The measure saves roughly 1.3 terawatt-hours of electricity annually, or about half a percent of the country’s demand, according to the DOE. But don’t judge the effect just on the meter readings. Wait until March 9, when you squeeze in that first glorious, sunlit postwork run or ride of the year.

4. A Helping Hand in Africa

In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush surprised the world by asking Congress to commit $15 billion to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has supported treatment for nearly two million people. Though the effort initially drew criticism for its required emphasis on abstinence-only education, that demand was softened when the plan was renewed with $48 billion in July. When asked about the genesis of the idea, Ambassador Mark Dybul, U.S. Global AIDS coordinator,”The impetus was the president….This comes from his heart.”

5. Light Hikers inEvery Closet

Bush was notably friendly to business, including the $289 billion-per-year outdoor industry. Specifically, the administration made import-tariff reductions for high-performance materials like breathable wading boots and Gore-Tex trail-running shoes.

6. Cleaner Trains, Tankers, and Tractors

Although the administration did little to increase automobile efficiency, Bush’s Clean Diesel Campaign—executive regulations set out over the last eight years—will reduce emissions from new heavy vehicles up to 90 percent by 2014. And in a rare act of recognition, the Natural Resources Defense Council acknowledges the deed. “Diesel pollution is the one extremely bright star in an otherwise dark night of the Bush environmental record,” says NRDC attorney Richard Kassel.

7. Open-Air Diplomacy

The Vacationer in Chief was regularly needled for setting a new record for days on retreat. But he also pulled world leaders out of cities, taking Vladimir Putin bass fishing in Maine and hosting Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and Mexico’s President Vicente Fox in Crawford, Texas. With the precedent set, just think what Obama could accomplish by taking Kim Jong-Il bodysurfing in Oahu.

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