How clean is clean enough?
Q: April 22 marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the launching point for America's modern environmental movement. To what extent has the U.S. delivered on the vision of Earth Day's founders, and where has the modern environmental movement gone wrong?
By any reasonable and objective measure, there has been tremendous environmental progress since the first Earth Day. Though there will always be more that can be done, no one can deny that air and water are much cleaner and exposure to toxins are much less.
Now is the time for a look back to assess which mechanisms worked, how well, and what could have been done more efficiently with the benefit of hindsight. Given our significant progress to date, future incremental gains will be challenging and will not come cheaply. So it is appropriate to ask how clean is clean enough.
Resources are not free, so consuming disproportionate resources for marginal gains is a questionable practice. Accordingly, the goal of environmental action should be to achieve benefits that clearly exceed their costs, including those incurred by unintended consequences. Yet, this has rarely been the approach used in the past. And federal regulators show little indication of plans to slow down any time soon.
When Congress decided to mandate reformulated gasoline, research conducted by the oil and auto industries demonstrated that tailpipe emission reductions could be achieved at a lower cost than the formula written into legislation. However, Congress wanted to transfer wealth to agricultural interests, so gasoline became more expensive than it had to be. Similarly, when EPA decided to reduce sulfur levels in gasoline and diesel, it chose a level that imposed unnecessarily high costs on refiners. If the hidden objective of fuel regulation is to discourage mobility, then higher costs are better even if not efficient.
Now EPA is moving ahead to propose a lower ozone standard even though it may put most of the nation in non-attainment, may produce negligible benefits, and perhaps for some regions be unachievable. If the agency is successful, states will have to take actions that will impose large costs on their citizens and businesses. Actions have consequences; however, EPA seems to be acting without any regard for those consequences and the impact they will have on average citizens, especially those already struggling to make ends meet.
Instead of continuing a command and control regulatory approach that is from the center and top down, it is time to consider whether Washington needs a course correction. Now may be the time to pursue a model that involves greater flexibility and a true partnership between states and the federal government. That would have the potential benefit of promoting what is called civic environmentalism.
Civic environmentalism is a new different way of thinking about environmental problems. It combines the most effective elements of command-and-control regulation with market-based environmentalism. While regulation succeeds in focusing attention on a particular problem and setting national standards, it often fails to craft effective, cost-minimizing solutions. A market based approach encourages the most flexible and specialized fixes.
It also recognizes that "the environment" is not a special realm reserved for experts and professional activists, but an essential aspect of public life. That kind of thinking may be anathema to the big environmental groups, but it's the only effective approach to today's diffuse, varied, and highly local ecological challenges.
Civic environmentalism incorporates market-oriented policies to encourage private property owners to contribute to the public good of environmental protection. The approach is designed to provide greater levels of accountability at the local level while allowing better environmental protection at lower costs than federal regulation. Civic environmentalism synthesizes the strengths of the federal government in making environmental policy and the unique abilities of state and local governments. And a side benefit is that it also promotes good citizenship.
The George C. Marshall Institute has published several documents on this approach -- Marshall.org.
Posted by: jblast2000 | April 23, 2010 2:30 AM
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Posted by: markfilby | April 23, 2010 1:18 AM
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