July 28, 2008 at 8:18AM
by Jim DiPeso
Papa-hanau-moku-akea. Once you break the word down into syllables, you can get the hang of pronouncing it.
The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument covers nearly 90 million acres in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. As one of the largest marine reserves in the world, the monument is a stunning seascape featuring coral reefs, numerous tropical species, including sea turtles, and rich archaeological sites.
The 2006 proclamation establishing the monument is a shiny jewel in the Bush administrations otherwise checkered environmental record.
More such oceanic monuments may be established before President Bush heads back to Crawford in six months. The word around DC is that Bush is considering use of the Antiquities Act to establish a few more really big monuments in the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico. Ocean advocates are whispering tempting legacy thoughts into Bushs ear about being the Teddy Roosevelt of the seas.
If he follows through with the proposed monuments, he would deserve the flattering moniker.
Unfortunately, Bushs marine conservation achievements are likely to be overshadowed by the administrations flaky record on global warming, which was capped by Dick Cheneys cack-handed squashing of the administrations last chance to do something positive about the problem.
The result of Cheneys intervention was EPAs pallid response to last years Supreme Court ruling that the Clean Air Act provides authority to set limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush EPA will do nothing more than take comments on setting emissions standards, and then disappear quietly into the night next January.
Many high-level people in the administration, including Cabinet secretaries, apparently were ready to move forward with a legal finding that greenhouse gas emissions are a threat to public welfare and with setting emissions limits through the Clean Air Act. But Cheney said no, and any political will to salvage a respectable record on global warming collapsed under the dead weight of ideology and political correctness.
As if to show that the cowed agency had been primed for action, EPA published a draft report stating that climate change potentially could lead to significant increases in low-lying ozone, a respiratory hazard, and longer ozone seasons, primarily in the Northeast and Midwest.
Days later, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program issued a report concluding that more ozone, heat waves, and waterborne illness are likely health consequences of a changing climate. The poor, the sick, and the very young will be most vulnerable to the health impacts, the report stated bluntly.
Congress howled about the administrations fecklessness, but the 110th Congress and its 75 percent disapproval rating (according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll) is sinking into the usual election-year morass of partisanship, headline hunting, and campaign fever. Dont expect much from Congress for the remainder of the year.
The deeper tragedy, however, is that the Bush administration has missed opportunities, time after time, to lead on climate change and, in parallel, put the U.S. on a more strategically sound energy course.
All the more reason to hope that the administration follows through on those marine reserve proposals that are in the hopper. At this point, with the shadows of unpopularity lengthening and the administrations sunset drawing near, an Antiquities Act flourish on behalf of the oceans is George W. Bushs best chance to rub some of the tarnish off his conservation record.
Papa-hanau-moku-akea. Go ahead, learn how to pronounce it. The Hawaiian name for Americas largest protected area is based on island mythology that touches on mans relationship to the environment. Something to keep in mind next January, when the climate debate will move forward in earnest under a new president and Congress.