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Environmental Protection

by Judy Beck

Each major anniversary of Earth Day has produced not only a list of accomplishments, but also a list of new challenges that had not been previously contemplated. As technology was fined tuned, we found more pollution; as activities became regulated in our country, environmental disasters around the world, like Bopahl and Chernoble, proved that pollution control is a global problem. And even more unsettling was the discovery of a hole in the atmosphere that would take an undetermined number of years to repair.

The 25th anniversary of Earth Day is no exception. It arrives as the country and Congress are rethinking the basic governmental structure and relationships. The thought of tinkering with the structure that has been so successful in improving human health and the environment is unsettling. But serious problems remain, and we need to build upon the past successes while exploring new, more innovative common sense approaches for the future. These changes are aimed at moving environmental protection closer to the areas and people that need protection.

On March 16,1995, the President and Vice President announced a major new policy direction for environmental protection. A summary follows.

25 Years of Progress

Since the first Earth Day almost 25 years ago, the American people have enjoyed dramatic improvements in public health, worker safety, and the natural environment. We have taken lead out of gasoline and paint. We have virtually eliminated direct discharge of raw sewage into the nation's water. We have banned DDT and other dangerous and persistent pesticides. Because of these and other actions, lead levels in the average American's bloodstream have dropped by 25 percent since 1976, millions of Americans can now fish and swim in formerly polluted waters, and the bald eagle—once close to extinction—has been removed from the list of endangered species. Improvements in the quality of our air, water, and land represent investments in the future that will pay dividends for generations to come.

But, for all the progress we have made, serious environmental problems remain. Examples include:

    • forty percent of our rivers and lakes still do not fully meet water quality standards;
    • 54 million Americans—one in five—still live in areas where the air does not meet public health standards; and
    • we are witnessing increases in asthma, breast cancer and other illnesses that may be related to environmental pollution.

It is clear that we have not finished the job. We must build on the successes of the past to construct a framework for continued success in the future.

Many of the successes achieved thus far have been based on "end-of-the-pipe," "command-and-control" approaches. Under this system, federal and state governments have set standards, issued permits for pollutant discharges, and then inspected, monitored and enforced the standards set for each environmental statute. By regulating emission sources to the air, water and land, we have addressed many of the obvious environmental problems.

But as we achieved these successes, we learned a great deal about the limitations of command-and-control. Prescriptive regulations can be inflexible, resulting in costly actions that defy common sense by requiring greater costs for smaller returns. This approach can discourage technological innovation that can lower the costs of regulation or achieve environmental benefits beyond compliance. Prescriptive regulation is often less effective in addressing some of the more diffuse sources of pollution that we will face in the years ahead.

We have seen both the value and the limitations of command-and-control regulation and end-of-pipe strategies. They will remain possible policy options to be chosen if they are the most efficient, effective—or only—solutions to future environmental problems. But we also know that we must expand available policy tools to include new and innovative ways to achieve greater levels of environmental protection at a lower cost.


24 • Illinois Parks& Recreation • March/April 1995

Environmental Protection


For example, we have learned that setting "performance standards" and allowing the regulated community to find the best way to meet them can get results cheaper and quicker—and cleaner—than mandating design standards or specific technologies. We can promote both lower-cost environmental protection and innovation in pollution control and prevention technology. Using performance standards along with economic incentives encourages innovation. The lower-cost and most effective strategies earn a greater return in the marketplace. Accountability and responsibility must accompany this increased flexibility so our citizens have confidence that our environmental goals are, in fact, being met.

We have also learned that a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand-in-hand. This growing awareness is demonstrated by the strong support that the concept of sustainable development has received from both industry and environmentalists across the country and around the world. Our economic and our environmental goals must be mutually reinforcing to produce both jobs and environmental quality.

We have learned that the adversarial approach that has often characterized our environmental system precludes opportunities for creative solutions that a more collaborative system might encourage. When decision-making is shared, people can bridge differences, find common ground and identify new solutions. To reinvent environmental protection, we must first build trust among traditional adversaries.

We have certainly learned that Washington, D.C. is not the source of all the answers. There is growing support for sharing decision-making by shifting more authority—and responsibility—from the federal government to states, tribes and local communities.

Drawing upon the lessons of the last 25 years, the Clinton/Gore Administration is committed to reinventing our environmental protection system. This is a positive effort to build upon the strengths of the current system, while overcoming its limitations. We will reform the system, not undermine it. We will bring people together in support of reform, rather than further polarizing a debate that has been polarized for too long already.

In tackling this challenge, we are guided by a commitment to the progress of the last 25 years, a vision for the next 25 years, a set of 10 principles (see listing below), and the knowledge that the American people want common sense protection of public health and the environment.

Judy Beck is the State Relations Manager/or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5. She serves on the Glenview Park District's Board of Directors and is immediate past president of the Illinois Association of Park Districts. •

10 Principles for
Reinventing Environmental Protection

  1. Protecting public health and the environment are important national goals, and individuals, businesses and government must take responsibility for the impact of their actions.
  2. Regulation must be designed to achieve environmental goals in a manner that minimizes costs to individuals, businesses, and other levels of government.
  3. Environmental regulations must be performance-based, providing maximum flexibility in the means of achieving our environmental goals, but requiring accountability for the results.
  4. Preventing pollution, not just controlling or cleaning it up, is preferred.
  5. Market incentives should be used to achieve environmental goals, whenever appropriate.
  6. Environmental regulation should be based on the best science and economics, subject to expert and public scrutiny. and grounded in values Americans share.
  7. Government regulations must be understandable to those who are affected by them.
  8. Decision making should be collaborative, not adversarial, and decision makers must inform and involve those who must live with the decisions.
  9. Federal, state, tribal and local governments must work as partners to achieve common environmental goals, with non-federal partners taking the lead when appropriate.
  10. No citizen should be subjected to unjust or disproportionate environmental impacts.

Illinois Parks & Recreation • March/April 1995 • 25

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