By the Stroke of a Pen
Seven Executive Orders to Launch the Obama Agenda
Since the great whirlwind of policymaking that defined President Franklin Roosevelt's first 100 days in office, new Presidents have recognized the importance of launching their administrations with a package of measures that reflect their top policy priorities and that set a tone for their administrations. Much of President Barack Obama’s agenda will require new legislation, but a report from the Center for Progressive Reform proposes a series of Executive Orders for the new President that would allow him to jumpstart his agenda with nothing but the stroke of his pen.
Through Executive Orders, a President exercises his broad authority over the executive branch; and in so doing can have a profound influence on how the federal government responds to important policy issues. By directing federal agencies to focus on particular priorities, and by reshaping the internal processes by which agencies do their business, President Obama can impose new policies, while at the same time sending a clear message to Americans and the world that change is under way.
Seven Executive Orders
Each of the Orders proposed in the report, Protecting Public Health and the Environment by the Stroke of a Presidential Pen, directs agencies of the government to take specific steps that would make a real-world difference. The Orders address:
- Climate Change. Require all federal agencies to measure, report, and reduce their carbon footprints. The federal government now accounts for 1.4 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
- Climate Change. Direct all federal agencies to consider the climate change-related implications of their actions as part of their obligations under the National Environmental Protection Act. If the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had considered climate change when fixing mileage standards for light trucks in 2008, it might have produced considerably more stringent standards.
- Protecting Children from Toxics. Require all federal agencies to develop plans implementing an affirmative agenda to protect children from toxics, to account for the unique attributes of children when conducting risk assessments, and to stop discounting prospective benefits for children and future generations when conducting cost-benefit analyses. Current policies too often fail to account for children’s exposure to toxics.
- Environmental Justice. Clarify key terminology for understanding environmental justice issues and require all federal agencies to conduct meaningful analyses of the environmental justice impacts of their actions, undertake steps to ameliorate environmental injustices, and commit to carrying out an affirmative environmental agenda. Current executive branch policy ignores the ways in which environmental hazards are disproportionately visited upon minority communities.
- Transparency in Government. Restore the presumption of disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, limit the ability of agencies to avoid the transparency provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and introduce greater transparency into the regulatory review process conducted by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Open government was a victim of the Bush Administration, all too often compromising the integrity of the regulatory process and denying citizens the right to scrutinize what was being done in their name.
- Victims’ Right to Sue. Establish a strong presumption against federal agency preemption of more protective state health and environmental laws and institute a rigorous procedure for agencies to follow in order to overcome that presumption. The Bush Administration has frequently asserted that its regulations – usually weak – preempt victims’ right to sue for damages.
- Public Lands. Establish the goal of ecological integrity as the baseline for making public land management decisions, revoke two Bush-era Executive Orders that improperly prioritized the goals of energy development over the statutory goals of sustainable land use, and broaden opportunities for public participation in land management decisions. The nation’s public lands need careful stewardship, but the Bush Administration policy of permitting overexploitation has degraded the lands and the services, values, and benefits they provide.
The report is the product of a collaboration among 13 CPR Member Scholars: Professors Rebecca M. Bratspies (CUNY School of Law), David M. Driesen (Syracuse University College of Law), Robert L. Fischman (Indiana University School of Law–Bloomington), Sheila Foster (Fordham Law School), Eileen Gauna (University of New Mexico School of Law), Robert L. Glicksman (University of Kansas Law School), Alexandra B. Klass (University of Minnesota Law School), Catherine A. O’Neill (Seattle University School of Law), Sidney Shapiro (Wake Forest University School of Law), Amy Sinden (Temple University Beasley School of Law), Rena Steinzor (University of Maryland Carey School of Law), Robert R.M. Verchick (Loyola University, New Orleans), and Wendy Wagner (University of Texas School of Law). They were joined by CPR Policy Analyst James Goodwin.
- Read Protecting Public Health and the Environment by the Stroke of a Presidential Pen: Seven Executive Orders for the President's First 100 Days, issued November 11, 2008. Read the news release.
- Read Limiting Federal Agency Preemption: Recommendations for a New Federalism Executive Order (1.2 meg download), by CPR Member Scholars William Funk, Thomas McGarity, Nina Mendelson, Sidney Shapiro, and David Vladeck, and CPR Policy Analysts Matthew Shudtz and James Goodwin, November 2008, White Paper 809. In it, the authors dig a little deeper into their proposal for an Executive Order on agency preemption of state laws.