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Technology and Environment. 1989. Pp. 15~166. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. The Rise and Fall of Environmental Expertise VICTORIA J. TSCHINKEL Vanous professions have thrust themselves forward with enthusiasm, pride, and touching self-confidence as the key to saving and managing our natural environment. Physicians, engineers, biologists, and lawyers have all contributed the* talents and prejudices to the cause. Given their differences of New, it is probably not surprising that we are where we are today. Thirty years after the birth of the modern environmental movement, we are still questioning what the real problems are, what technical solutions are appropriate, and most difficult of all, how to make those solutions socially acceptable. Ib our frustration, the public seems to have lost confidence the ability of politicians and professionals to solve the problems. This chapter traces the history of the modern environmental move- ment through the rise and fall of prpes of expertise brought to bear on the problems. Then the relevance of the technical solution to socieW's means for addressing the problems is examined. I=st, the formal methods established to make environmental decisions are examined and contrasted with the ways in which decisions are actually reached. This approach will lead to recommendations on how to proceed in the future. Let us look first at the professions that have been in the forefront of environmental management over the years. Each has discovered problems and offered solutions to them. Unfortunately, some of these solutions have had unforeseen consequences. Almost all have been focused so narrowly that opportunities to do the job right have been lost. I have chosen illustrations from water resource management because that is the 159
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160 Y7CTORLA ~ TSCH - =L environmental problem most familiar to me. However, similar examples exist in air pollution and solid waste management. Physicians were first to understand the direct effects of man's activities on water supplies. Their initial efforts were aimed at keeping harmful exposure to a minimum. Sewage was carted away from populated areas, and by 1850 the storm drain was commonly used to dispose of household wastes, thereby drastically reducing the spread of cholera. This solution led to the unforeseen consequence of dumping raw sewage into water bodies used as sources of drinking water. The response to the resulting threat to public health was chlorination of public water supplies to prevent diseases caused by this method of sewage removal By 1930, chlorination had virtually eliminated typhoid in the United States. In a sense, this major achievement completed the contribution of the early public health approach to wastewater management. What have the consequences been? First, the large quantities of sewage that are diluted with water and shunted off to bodies of water cause eutrophication and contamination of our natural surface water bodies. Tremendous quantities of water and nutrients are wasted in this practice. Ironically, it has since been discovered that chlorine itself may be an indirect cause of illness by combining with organics to form trihalomethanes, which are suspected carcinogens. This problem has required attention at 3,000 public drinldng water systems around the country. Despite what appeared to be permanent public commitment to the dis- charge of domestic waste mixed with vast quantities of water, the engineer- ing profession rallied to the task of reducing the nutrients and pathogens entering waterways. By 1970 a vast infrastructure of secondary treatment plants was substantially complete all over the country. Building contin- ues on these facilities. Between 1977 and the present, local and federal governments have invested more than $100 billion to gain 87 percent com- pliance with the standards for secondary treatment. However, by 1980 policymakers and regulators realized that they had been lulled into a false sense of accomplishment. Despite this enormous infrastructure investment, few improvements have occurred in most of our waterways since those achieved by the early 1970s. It is not surprising that the public has lost confidence. As some engineers had warned, slipping by the neatly devised and heroically built system were 37,000 inappropriately designed landfills, hundreds of thousands of leaking gasoline tanks, and millions of tons of untreated nutrients and metals left over from secondary treatment. Worst of all, discharges of storm water, as polluted as raw sewage and laden with heavy metals and exotic chemicals, continue to run untreated into our lakes, rivers, and estuaries. Bizarre new fish diseases are appearing almost weekly around the country, most likely because of long-term bioaccumulation of unregulated pollutants. In Florida, such storm water accounts for all solids,
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THE RISE AND FALL OF E~RONME=^ EXPERTISE 161 8~95 percent of the heavy metal loads, and 20 percent of the nutrients polluting our surface waters. Despite the quantities of water treated and wasted in secondary treat- ment plants, new water supplies are continuously being sought. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been active in this area in Florida, and many benefits have resulted. However, there are some sad legacies of the past. One is the Central and South Florida Flood Control project designed to create and protect 750,000 acres of agricultural land, formerly part of the great Everglades, and to provide water in times of drought to the urban areas of south Florida. Ternble by-products of this project have been a 90 percent reduction in the population of wading birds in Everglades Na- tional Park and the eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee, the heart of the freshwater supply to south Florida. For their part, the biologists are waiting in the wings to solve these problems. If more had been known, they say, few of these disasters would have occurred. Absent a clearer understanding of consequences and alternatives, the public is now more respectful of embarking on new projects. However, after 20 years of study on Lake Okeechobee, biologists still cannot describe with any certainty the nutrient regime of the lake. They are similarly confused on issues surrounding the effects of acid rain and other major ecological disturbances. Few in our society believe it would be prudent to wait to intervene in such problems while biologists fully sort out causes and effects. Because causes, effects, and cures are still elusive in many large en- vironmental problems and enormous challenges keep appearing, the con- dition that As developed is obviously one in which the legal profession can flourish. The legal system has produced some of the basic decisions supporting environmental protection, but it has also produced an adver- sarial, combative climate in which it is impossible for people from industry to feel comfortable discussing facts with their colleagues in government or with the public. Many people who are knowledgeable about environmental issues are constantly in litigation and constrained from solving problems by using each other's talents cooperatively. The amount of litigation IS alarming. For those cases that went to trial in federal court, 10 percent of the civil suits overall took longer than 45 months to resolve, and 10 percent of the environmental cases took longer than 67 months to resolve. Most serious is the fact that the legalistic approach has produced a staggering load of regulations, purportedly to cover every conceivable circumstance. This regulatory burden has left little time or incentive for creativity and human judgment, and no time for concentrating on environmental results. It has created a process-oriented, rather than a results-oriented, approach to environmental regulations. The purpose of this review is to underscore the need for humility in
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162 VICTORLl ~ TSCHIN=L proposing umversal solutions to individual problems. Regulators have to consult with their colleagues and force themselves to justify carefully the need for action and its probable consequences. OPPORTUNITIES AND OBSTACLES What lessons can engineers learn from these expenences? Engineers will continue to be hampered by a poor understanding of the biological world as reflected in the poor models of it. Research is essential to improve these models. Nevertheless, the engineering profession can move out with confidence and self-respect in developing several technological opportunities. First, because experts are weakest in convincing each other, let alone the public, that they can describe and quantifier the effects of contaminants released into the environment, there is a need for chemists and engineers to work diligently at finding new processes to avoid creation of these by-products. It is no longer possible to make radical improvements in end- of-process treatment. In large measure, the concept of treatment should become passe. Let us not give the biologists and the lawyers anything to worry about. Second, recycling technologies will be required for unavoidable by- products and for reusing or reformatting products that are no longer useful. America generates nvo to three times more garbage than our economic peers do, and one-third of current landfills in the United States will be out of space in 5 to 10 years. New landfills and incinerators are becoming impossible to site. The only silver lining to this situation is that disposal costs have tripled or quadrupled in many locations, making recycling more palatable. The time has come to avoid product or process technologies that create new waste disposal problems in favor of those that reduce the need for ultimate discharge or disposal (see Friedlander, this volume). The developed world will not be allowed much longer to dump used articles on a poorer country in the name of recycling, if the result is to contaminate the land in that country. Third, there is a need to plan for problems that are coming and effects that are unavoidable. It is not necessary to wait for the modelers to describe these effects in detail. The engineering profession can help find ways to reduce the carbon dionde burden in the atmosphere where possible, but also to prepare for rising sea levels. Local coastal effects and the best mitigation for these impacts must be understood before disaster occurs. Fourth, appropriate development of water supplies and efficient use of available resources are going to be of major importance as water becomes increasingly scarce in many parts of the world. It has been estimated that global warming, with an increase of 2°C in temperature and 10 percent
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THE RISE AND FALL OF ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERTISE 163 reduction in rainfall, could reduce available water supplies by 50 percent in the drier states of the U.S. Southwest. Finally, although many environments have damaged in the past, there is still time to rehabilitate many of them, including the Everglades and the Chesapeake Bay. It will take our best team efforts to bring these wonderful places back, yet we must because we depend on them economically and culturally and because they are natural wonders. There will be a host of new public works actions needed to correct non-point-source problems and delicate freshwater-saltwater imbalances and to restore the natural hydropenod essential to a balanced fishery. There are exciting and challenging opportunities for engineers in con- serving natural resources, but it is equally important to ensure that these solutions are usable and used. Let us examine for a moment the unrecep- tive atmosphere in which these brilliant and practical new discoveries will struggle to live. First, problem definition is often a major drawback to progress. There are usually deficient or conflicting scientific data defining the problem. The public often disagrees about the causes of problems and the priorities for solutions. This is not surprising because scientists also often disagree, both on sources and fates of contaminants in the environment, and on political aspects of the issues as welt Second, appropriate solutions may elude us because the regulatory system and the market often do not encourage them. For example, we require advanced waste treatment of domestic waste at about 50 percent higher cost than the usual secondary treatment when discharged into a eutrophic water body. Right next to this "gold-plated pipe" is a storm water ditch carrying the equivalent of raw sewage. This water has received absolutely no treatment. Third, some of the toughest environmental issues-ozone pollution from automobiles, climate change, eutrophication of water bodies, and loss of natural habitat due to the growing market for vacation homes are the consequences of large-scale cultural patterns, the summed effects of millions of people making individual decisions. It is easy for people to rally around a common enemy "the smokestack," but ask them to separate their garbage or stop fertilizing their lawn and the commitment to environmental quality becomes less important. Fourth, there Is a common tendency to rely on "high-tech" solutions and use "low-tech" human beings to implement them. Three Mile Island, Bhopal, and Chernobyl all come to mind. This problem has arisen so often that a whole new discipline, "human engineering," has developed to cope with it. Let us not forget that even with a computerized cockpit, experienced pilots still forget to set flaps. Human frailties are here to stay, and design must involve an understanding of human behavior.
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164 VICTORIA I TSCHINKE:L Fifth, the regulatory system was largely designed around the outmoded concept of treatment after process completion, rather than avoidance and reuse. This has been a more practical approach for the regulator and keeps government out of the internal workings of the regulated community. It does not encourage the modern approach, which by its nature is highly individualized by location, so that each plan is suited to the individual sensitivites of each natural system. Last, despite a centralized approach to pollution control, one that is highly structured and legalistic, the United States is moving more and more toward negotiated decision making. Still another new profession, the environmental mediator, has leaped into the fray. THE REAL WORLD OF DECISIONS Many times I have heard competent industrial managers say that they are frustrated by expensive regulations which they feel are irrelevant or by local citizens who fail to distinguish between a real risk and what is merely a fear. These managers feel betrayed by local and regional governments that feel compelled to add their own burden of regulation because, somehow, the state and federal governments are not doing their job. Local regulations often conflict with the national approach. This situation is a natural consequence of our lack of hard data and the mistaken demand on all sides for clearly articulated rules so that all parties can tell what is expected of the regulated party. The sheer volume and conflict among all the rules make that clarity a chimera. As a result of this complex regulatory structure and the public's contin- ued distrust, many of the real decisions are actually being made locally with a far broader agenda than that normally encompassed by the regulatory approach. Some people call this the "let's make a deal" approach State and local authorities need to take advantage of this approach to encourage regional solutions to- environmental problems, solutions tailored to the en- vironmental needs of each area and to the causes of those problems. The Washington establishment will not always like this devolution of authority. Although there are many examples of this regulatory approach around the country, I will discuss two that I have participated in. The first concerns a phosphate mining and chemical plant operated by Occidental Chemical Corporation at White Springs, Florida. The company owns mineral rights along the Suwannee River and for several miles inland. In 1984, new management at the plant became frustrated by the constant litigation surrounding every change contemplated. Planning expansion became im- possible because of regulatory uncertainties and mounting public concern. The company decided to open a dialogue with concerned agencies and environmental groups. Although not every issue has been settled, certain
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THE RISE AND FALL OF ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERTISE 165 things have become clear to everyone. First, the protection of the Suwan- nee River depends absolutely on developing a long-range plan that includes preservation elements, acquisition elements, and mitigation of damage to wetlands that are to be mined. The need for a long-range environmental plan coincided with the company's view that, to make long-range business plans, they had to know which areas would be allowed to be mined. Many of the items that are central to the agreement lie outside the normal scope of regulation, yet are essential to the well-being of the Suwannee River watershed. Of course, this is a simple example compared with areas that have more than one source of pollution. A second example is the comprehensive basin approach to managing water problems, which was begun in Florida in 1986. In 1987 Florida passed the Surface Water Improvement and Management Act, which designated critical basins. The new aspects of this program are funded at $15 million per year, combined with $20 million per year for land acquisition programs. By contrast, the entire Clean Lakes program (authorized under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, Public Law 92-500) in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency receives only $15 million. On the St. Johns River near Jacksonville, for example, marsh restoration, land acquisition, water supply, flood control, and enforcement actions are being combined in a massive effort. It has become clear to us in Florida that it is impossible to meet environmental goals on a routine permit-by-permit basis. We can listen carefully to these issues and examples and fashion a newer, better means of dealing with many environmental problems. It must be one that has a sound scientific base, has incentives for doing the right thing, engages people's cooperation early in the process, recognizes that humans are mortals, is relatively site specific and results oriented, and is negotiated and agreed to by all parties. Engineers must now consider such interaction with the agencies and public as part of their job: the public should be the ultimate client for every environmental engineer. It is time again for engineers, as well as representatives of the many other professions with relevant expertise, to step forward and commit themselves to maintaining and enhancing environmental quality. BIBLIOGRAPHY American Water Works Association. 1981. Water Conservation Management. Washington, D.C.: American Waterworks Association. gingham, G. 1986. Resolving Environmental Disputes. Washington, D.C.: Ihe Conservation Foundation. Costanza, R. 1987. Social traps and environmental policy. BioScience 37~6~:407~12.
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166 VICTORIA ~ TSCHW=L Elkington, J., and J. Shopboy. 1988. Lee Shrinking Planet: U.S. Information Technology and Sustainable Development. Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute. King, J. 1985. Troubled Water. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press. Morgan, A. E. 1971. Dams and Other Disasters. Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers. National Academy of Engineering. 1986. Hazards: Technology and Fairness. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press National Academy of Engineering. 1988. Cities and Their Vital Systems Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press. National Council on Public Works Improvement. 1988. The state of U.S. infrastructure. Urban Land May 2~23. Rabe, B. G. 1986. Fragmentation and Integration in State Environmental Management. Washington, D.C.: The Conservation Foundation. Stokey, E., and R. Zeckhauser. 1978. A Primer for Policy Analysis. New York: W. W. Norton.
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