A post-Bush manifesto

Since Barack Obama won the race for the White House, greens have been poring over his every word in an attempt to figure out just how environmentally friendly the 44th president will be. The early signs have been pretty promising: Obama has said all the right things about tackling climate change, reforming Detroit and treating the economy and the environment as complementary priorities.

Now, though, it’s time to move beyond post-election pleasantries and start to get specific. To help Obama along the way, a battery of 29 green groups - including major players like the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace - have published a 291-page opus setting out exactly what the next president needs to do to put things right.

The tract - entitled Transition to Green (pdf) - sets out a series of guiding principles that could almost have been transcribed from the Obama campaign website. Certainly, few members of Obama’s environmental transition team would argue with the document’s call for the next president to prioritize climate change, insist on on scientific integrity and governmental transparency, and make environmental reforms part of any new economic stimulus package.

The devil, though, is in the details. The report takes the principles Obama espoused on the campaign trail, and sets out in exhaustive detail - agency by agency and official by official - the precise actions that will be needed for the Obama administration to live up to its promises. That ranges from long-overdue rollbacks of Bush policies to major new initiatives, and from obvious flagship issues like energy reform and climate change to a laundry list of less headline-grabbing environmental priorities like military oversight and oil-and-gas leasing regulations.

As such, Transition to Green is really a manifesto for the post-Bush environmental movement. In cataloguing the criteria against which, four years from now, we’ll assess the environmental achievements of President Obama, the report is also setting out the criteria against which America’s environmentalists will have to measure their own achievements during Obama’s first term. It won’t be enough to simply cheer from the sidelines: if Obama is to live up to his potential, greens will need to continually push to keep his flagship projects on course and to ensure that less media-friendly environmental priorities don’t fall through the cracks. That won’t be an easy task; still, this week’s report is a good place to start.