Bush's legacy: lost at sea?

With agency chiefs scrambling to tear up America’s environmental rulebook before Bush leaves office, it’s safe to say that the toxic Texan won’t be remembered as America’s greenest president. Still, the President has a backup plan: in a bid to burnish his record - and to keep Laura happy - Dubya is seeking to protect vast areas of the Pacific Ocean before the clock runs out on his administration.

While that would only be a gesture, it would be a particularly sweeping one: in addition to the 140,000 square miles of Hawaiian water he protected in 2006, Bush hopes to protect some 750,000 square miles surrounding the Line Islands and the Mariana Trench. If Bush’s ambitious proposals succeed, he’ll have protected a greater area than all previous presidents combined, and secured himself at least one positive mention in the history books.

Unfortunately, though, things aren’t going to plan. The Hawaiian reserve is a mess, literally: funding for beach cleanups and other preservation work has been slashed by 80 percent since 2005, and fishing nets, plastic bottles and other trash are piling up on the beaches and reefs at a rate of 57 tons a year. And the plans for reserves in the Line Islands and the Marianas are also faltering: islanders are concerned that the plans would limit their fishing rights and make it impossible to exploit mineral wealth in the region, and Dick Cheney has reportedly been grouching about the proposals’ potential economic impact.

In theory there’s still time for Bush to push through the proposals, but even without Cheney’s opposition it’ll be tough to get everything done before inauguration day. Even James Connaughton, chairman of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality and Bush’s point man on the project, appears to be losing hope: he told NPR this week that it might already be too late to complete planning for the new reserves before Bush leaves office.

That wouldn’t stymie the plans altogether, but would mean that President Obama, not President Bush, would go down in history as having created the reserves. Perhaps that would be only fair: while the reserves are a great idea, Bush shouldn't be allowed to use them to greenwash his otherwise-abysmal environmental record.