Eleventh Hour: The Politics of Policy Initiatives in Presidential Transitions

By David M. Shafie | Go to book overview

Introduction

On a chilly January morning in 2001, Bill Clinton was outside the National Arboretum near the Capitol Building, publicly reflecting on the environmental legacy of his presidency. The soon-to-be ex-president made few specific references to past accomplishments, focusing instead on what his administration was still doing. Clinton took the opportunity to announce newly adopted EPA rules for diesel engine emissions and boasted about the twelve national monuments he had recently created or expanded: “We have saved and restored some of our most glorious natural wonders, from Florida’s Everglades to Hawaii’s coral reefs, from the redwoods of California to the red rock canyons of Utah.”1 He had no intention of slowing down during his two remaining weeks in office. There would be eight more national monuments and new proposed rules for food safety, energy conservation, and drinking water contamination.2

The centerpiece of Clinton’s speech was his announcement of a ban on building new roads in roadless areas of national forests. Acting under a presidential directive, the US Forest Service had spent the previous year conducting a review that produced a plan to preserve nearly 60 million acres. “Today we free the lands so that they will remain unspoiled by bulldozers, undisturbed by chainsaws, and untouched for our children,” he told the audience.3 As expected, oil, gas, and timber interests fumed at what a typical news report called Clinton’s “aggressive campaign during his final weeks in office to hamstring President-elect George W. Bush as an environmental policy-maker before the Texas governor takes power.”4 Republicans were powerless to stop the frenetic lame duck activism, even though they had just retained control of Congress in the November election, and their party was preparing to occupy the White House again after an eight-year hiatus.

The timing became a rallying point for critics of the rule’s opponents. The chair of the House Natural Resources Committee called the roadless policy “last-minute manipulation and grandstanding by a man desperate for a legacy.”5 Focusing on the “last-minute” nature of the final rules and proposals, critics suggested that they were pushed through because they lacked popular support. In his speech at the National Arboretum, Clinton already had an answer to this

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