Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

One can distill EPA's overall mission by looking inside each statute. You will find that we set national standards, we promulgate federal regulations, we issue permits to conduct certain activities, we license and register products, we inspect for compliance, and we enforce where it is necessary. We monitor for results. This is EPA's core regulatory agenda. And of course all of this cascades down through our system of government by delegation of regulatory authorities to state and local entities. Indeed, most environmental regulation in America is now performed by states and localities, not by the federal EPA.

All of this has produced some remarkable accomplishments in the last 25 years. We have substantially reduced mass-loadings of pollutants to the air, the water, and the land. We have installed pollution-control technologies at the end of the pipe or top of the stack. We have provided essential public health protections in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. We have arrested some ecosystem losses, and now we are starting the long journey of ecological restoration. Americans are adopting the ethic of pollution prevention. Prevention is now the environmental strategy of first choice for EPA and American enterprises. We have opened a window for public scrutiny under the public disclosure provisions of the Community Right to Know law. And we are starting the transformation to long-term sustainability and eco-efficiency in our uses of energy, water, and materials.

America has much to be proud of. I want to be so bold as to suggest that environmental protection is one of the most successful governmental interventions in the modern era. When we look at our accomplishments in the first 25 years, I think we should acknowledge and celebrate those successes, which incidentally happens to be Mr. Garman's fifth core concept, to which I heartily subscribe. And yet, a troubling mood of denial and despair seems to have settled over America. The anti-regulation forces seek to constrain or even roll back some of our environmental management system. On the other side, the environmental activists continue to proclaim doomsday. Both sides I suggest are preparing for the wrong battle, for the wrong reasons.

The American public expects continuing environmental quality. They demand equitable enforcement of environmental laws. Every poll I've seen seems to validate this; every public discussion I have engaged in Region 9 communities seems to tell the same story—a continuing expectation for environmental quality. So I suggest it's no longer a question of whether we shall have a quality environment, but rather how should we proceed?

For the next 25 years, America must fundamentally reorient our environmental agenda by building upon our successes. We need to update our statutory portfolio. Some of our laws are 25 years old, and they need to be updated to address a whole new generation of environmental challenges. The environmental landscape has changed. Our statutes need to be upgraded to vest EPA with a new set of tools to do the job. We need authorization for performance-based and prevention-based approaches, financial incentives and rewards, environmental information-driven

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement