Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, U.S. Department of Energy
Good morning. I've been asked to give my thoughts on what the nation's environmental goals should be for the next 25 years, now that we're 25 years down the road from Earth Day. To suggest the country's environmental goals for the next quarter century, we first need to review past practices and policies, see what lessons we've learned, and move forward to fix what's broken. Although progress in improving environmental quality has been uneven and unquestionably expensive, I think most people would agree that the state of our environment in this country is, overall, in healthier condition than in 1970: Most, though not all, of the pollutants in our air have been reduced; many species formerly on the endangered species list in this country are coming back; improvements in water quality are sketchy but still moving forward.
The nation, through its elected representatives, has laid a groundwork to protect the environment in numerous environmental statutes since 1970: the various clean air and water acts; our hazardous waste and toxic substances laws; the variety of all the other statutes that are on the books. In spite of all of this legislation, most public policy observers agree that improvements in environmental quality and protection could have been achieved at much lower cost, with less cumbersome and more intelligent regulations and, consequently, with much less industry hostility. We seem to have been particularly good in changing environmental regulations from the kind of consensus-based policy-making in the beginning of
the environmental movement into what currently has become an adversarial process that pits industry against government and parts of government against itself.
However, one major tenet remains that nearly everyone can agree on: While the general ends of these policies are not in dispute, the means to achieve them are. Many public opinion analysts would agree that environmentalism has become an idea fixed in the composite of values that define America's basic political beliefs and, thus, now competes for its ''market share" of government resources at all levels. In short, our environmental goals should aim for what most Americans want: the protection, preservation, and restoration of our environment. If we focus on protection and preservation in the right way, then restoration needs will diminish over time.
In the few minutes I have on the satellite, I would like to briefly discuss three principles that must guide and inform our goals in environmental policy-making: (1) applying risk management to our environmental programs to ensure we're spending our money in the most optimal way; (2) using market forces to the maximum extent feasible to alter the incentives of environmental protection; and (3) recognizing and acting upon our moral obligations to others and to future generations in exercising environmental stewardship. I believe that these three values need to be utilized within the legal, political, and institutional foundations and processes that determine our environmental goals.
Let me begin with a basic environmental premise: If you pick something up in the universe, you find it, connected to everything else. Coherently integrating the complex web within ecological systems to the social, economic, and political sectors of our society bespeaks of the difficulty in formulating environmental goals. William Pederson has put forth a relevant, but critical, perspective on this point in a recent Loyola Law Review article1: We have been making environmental laws but not environmental goals for the past quarter century. He states, for example, that in lieu of a clean water policy, we have a Clean Water Act. Although the "goal" in the Clean Water Act of 1972 was fishable and swimmable waters in the United States by 1980, the government pursued many activities that adversely affect water quality: agricultural and transportation subsidies, flood insurance, timber leasing, and water pricing. Fixing this compartmentalization of governmental activity should be one step in establishing environmental goals.
Another example of the duplicity and compartmentalization of environmental policy lies in the patchwork regulation of my own program. The Department of Energy's Environmental Management program is charged with the mission of cleaning up the legacy of 50 years of nuclear weapons production at our complex
of sites across the country. We must deal with millions of cubic meters of radioactive, hazardous, and mixed wastes in the soil, groundwater, in the ducts and pipes in our buildings, and in tens of thousands of tanks and canisters. No fewer than 10 major federal laws govern our program activities, with an additional host of state laws, and scores of consent agreements. How can we sensibly formulate a specific set of strategies and goals with over 133 sites in 33 states and Puerto Rico, with over 7,000 buildings, all in an area larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined?
One way is to prioritize the risks present in the system, and here I may be preaching to the choir. For those who don't know, I requested in July 1993, two months after assuming my current responsibilities, that the National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council advise the Department on whether and how risk and risk-based decisions could be incorporated into the Environmental Management program. My request to the National Research Council resulted in the January 1994 report, Building Consensus Through Risk Assessment and Management of the Department of Energy's Environmental Remediation Program. In the report, the Council identified the major obstacles, issues, and barriers to implementing a risk-based management approach. Nevertheless, the report concluded that the use of risk assessments and a risk-based approach would be feasible and successful, provided its purposes and limitations are clearly defined; early and full public involvement is gained; and consideration is given to cultural, socioeconomic, historic, and religious values.
In turn, we used these principles in studying our sites and coming up with our own Risk Report. Our report Risk and the Risk Debate: Searching for Common Ground represents the first step toward a consistent approach to evaluating the risks to human health, worker safety, and the environment posed by conditions at Department of Energy sites and facilities. While this first draft is not perfect, it provides three outcomes in my program that should be applied in other environmental regulatory policy and goal-setting areas. First and foremost, it articulates one, consistent analytical approach that captures the spectrum of risks associated with our program activities across the nuclear weapons complex; secondly, it assesses the degree to which risks are addressed in the patchwork of regulations and compliance agreements that govern our activities; finally, it links the risks in a qualitative fashion to regulatory performance and the budget.
A properly structured risk assessment program can have significant benefits, for the Environmental Management program and for other environment protection efforts. Incorporating risk management into the policy-making and goal-setting processes forces institutions to pose the question: How much risk reduction at what cost? Most important in this process is allowing society to become involved in the debate as to how much should be spent to address specific risks.
Allowing this debate to occur in the marketplace can provide powerful incentives for both the producer and the consumer to shape our environmental priorities. I'll expand on that thought in just a moment, but to sum up my thoughts on risk management, I believe an important goal for the next quarter century should be incorporating risk assessment and risk management into the political, legal, and institutional processes that themselves lead to the establishment of environmental priorities and goals.
ENVIRONMENTALISM IN THE MARKET PLACE
In his book Earth in the Balance, Vice President Gore writes, "Free market capitalist economics is arguably the most Powerful tool ever used by civilization." He further described how to conflate classical economic and environmental principles; one way is through market-based environmental policies. Harnessing the power of market forces can provide more cost-effective and far-reaching solutions for many environmental problems than can regulation. The command-and-control regulations that have dominated environmental protection in this country suffer from the same limitations that have led to the collapse of command-and-control economics around the world, They are inefficient, they stifle innovators, and they lack the flexibility to account for important differences among individuals, firms, and regions in the market. In contrast, market-based policies motivate both producers and consumers to seek out the best methods of environmental protection by changing the financial incentives that drive what to consume, how to produce, and where to dispose. The results are a lower cost of compliance for industry and, by extension, for the consumer, Clearly, a long-range national environmental goal must be a greater reliance on market-based strategies—we've simply got to get away from command-and-control regulations,
By the year 2020, several important environmental changes within the private sector should be firmly established as well. An ethic of environmental responsibility must be ingrained in the management culture of every private company, large and small. We need to have the environmental equivalent of the Malcolm Baldrige Award in the major corporations around the United States. When I spent the last seven years in the private sector before coming to this job, it was amazing to me to see the competition for the Baldrige Award really changed the way CEOs thought about their company. You can see CEOs competing with each other about who could be the best company in the marketplace. And we must do the same thing in the environmental arena. Corporate America must proactively protect the environment, rather than react to regulatory or public pressure. The new generation of middle and upper management must recognize the marketplace value of environmental stewardship. That kind of heightened sensitivity needs to extend to the citizenry and to government managers, as well. These "sea changes" in the marketplace, along with risk management, are an important part, in my view, of where the nation should be 25 years from now. But neither of
these elements can work without a healthy dose of morality. Let me take a few minutes now to elaborate.
OUR MORAL OBLIGATIONS
The right kind of environmental stewardship for our nation, and indeed for the world, has to include an acknowledgment of our moral obligations. How, for example, do we treat Native Americans who have been exposed to low risks from our nuclear weapons production plants? The answer to questions like this will not come from the marketplace. People have already been compromised, and the federal government, acting for all of its citizens, cannot ignore those citizens who have been inequitably exposed to risk. Thus, our goals and our environmental policy must be guided by our collective moral compass. In our age, human activities are transforming the planet in profound ways. Our ability to change the environment is magnified along with our growing numbers, our continual quest for a higher quality of life, and our technological and institutional capabilities. Our moral obligation to future generations compels us to ask how these factors can provide means not just to alleviate environmental damage but to advance the state of the environment.
The question that we should build into our daily routines is: What are we doing today that will prompt another generation to say, "How could these people not have seen the consequences of their actions?" This question could be directed at our waste disposal practices, our transportation methods, even our eating habits. No one, of course, knows what these future questions will be, much less the correct answers. Nonetheless, part of the inheritance of my kids and yours in the year 2020, should be a desire to look to the future and anticipate these questions now.
This morning I've given you a very brief overview of what I see as the direction we need to take in establishing our environmental goals for the next quarter century. Ideally, all major environmental risks will be eliminated by the year 2020, in keeping with the American public's desire to continue to protect, preserve, and restore our environment and our natural resources. Over the past quarter century, the means to achieve environmental protection has been the "stick" rather than the "carrot" and has, as a result, not been either cost-effective or conducive to the kinds of technological innovation we need. Aggressive risk management and marketplace incentives, informed by our moral obligations, could yield more sensible, powerful, and effective results.
I'd like to conclude by noting that the ultimate success of our nation's environmental policies and goals—in fact, all of our public policy-making—rests on the two pillars of representative democracy: the participation and education of the
citizenry. It seems to me that we are in the middle of a revolution about how people want to conduct policy-making in the United States. The end of the Cold War has essentially led to the end of the supposition that the federal government is able to solve many or most of the problems we have. States, local governments, individual citizen groups want to take back the power to themselves. One of the major challenges for environmental policy-making in the next 25 years, particularly policy-making that requires national action, will be how to formulate some kind of new national policy that includes the many factions of our national politics. I personally happen to be a Hamiltonian, and by that I mean that if the United States is to maintain its position in the twenty-first century, we must have a reasonably strong central government. So ladies and gentlemen, the huge problem of the moment is that the average citizen and public policy-maker at the state and local level simply do not want the federal government to deal with the problem anymore. Putting all of these interests at the local level together so that we can develop a coherent national strategy against both our domestic environmental and our international environmental problems will be a major issue in the years ahead.
With respect to education, all of us understand that the level of literacy in society is not at the level that it should be if we are to have the necessary informed dialogue, but it seems to me that we cannot engage in talking down to people or being paternalistic. We must work from the ground up again to get people to participate in the development of policy; we are going to have to work to educate folks to the level that they want to be educated to. By way of combining participation and education, I think EM's site-specific advisory boards have done a very good job in grasping the essentials of economics and science, and then making decisions and recommendations based on that.
Nurturing these two democratic fundamentals is as important as the policy-making itself—the environmental progress that has been achieved in the past 25 years underscores their importance. So, we must continue the hard work and challenge of maintaining the basics of our political system while continuing to engender environmental protection as a social value. In the end, we need to recreate a country in which every private citizen has a public responsibility and feels that responsibility in a direct way.