Staff Director, House Committee on Science
I want to thank the sponsors of this forum for the opportunity to be here this morning. First of all, I want to make clear that any comments I make represent my own opinions and views, and do not necessarily represent those of either the Committee on Science or any of its individual Members.
Looking ahead 25 years is a strange topic for someone from the U.S. House of Representatives to address, since we're used to thinking about one two-year term between elections. Presumably my colleague from the Senate, Dave Garman, who is accustomed to six-year terms will provide a more reliable long-term view. However, there is still the issue every two years of which political party is going to be in power.
I did have some learned remarks prepared and some great recommendations, but unfortunately Tom Grumbly stole them all. I do want to note, however, that I would agree and I believe most Members of the new House of Representatives would agree with what Tom said about risk assessment and analysis, and the need for sound science and movement to free-market economics. I won't dwell on those areas since he went into them in some detail, but what he said is certainly in broad agreement with the current majority of the House.
There has been, as you know, a sea change in the makeup of this Congress as a result of the 1994 election, particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives, which attained a Republican majority after 40 years of one-party rule. The new Members of this Congress—who total over 70—are for most part very conservative. In fact, as a class they are probably more conservative than the leadership of the House, which includes House Speaker Gingrich and Majority Leader Armey. And they can be, by and large, characterized by belief in ''minimalism"—that
is, a belief in minimal governmental regulation, in minimal government intrusion into the lives of individuals, and in minimal government taxing and spending.
The focus of Congress for the next seven to ten years will be, I believe, on getting control of the deficit—and it will remain a focus whichever political party, Republican or Democrat, has the majority in Congress or has the presidency. What we have right now is agreement between Congress and the Administration on balancing the budget; the only disagreements are whether it should be balanced in seven years or ten years, and which should be the spending priorities. However, the important thing will be the "bottom line."
This circumstance pits spending on the environment and environmental issues in general—which are not registering very high with the U.S. populace in the current polls—against spending on many other important areas such as Social Security, Medicare, crime, and so on. In fact, the Ladd-Bowman paper included in this forum's agenda book, noted that a January 1995 Gallup poll found that the environment was mentioned as the "most important problem" by only 1 percent of those surveyed. And Congress will tend first to respond to and address those issues in which there is strong public interest.
The near-term focus on balancing the budget—that is, the near-term focus on the bottom line—will make it difficult to concentrate on the long-term. And it will also make all environmental agencies budget targets. The Environmental Protection Agency budget has been cut at this point, and the National Biological Survey's existence as a stand-alone agency is uncertain—it may become part of the U.S. Geological Survey or downsized considerably if it survives. And, although several forces are at work here, financial considerations are the overwhelming driver.
Tom Grumbly also brought up another good issue—namely, that the old environmental consensus created in the late 1960s and early 1970s has broken down—and I would like to take a few minutes to address this topic.
That old environmental consensus remained largely intact throughout the 1980s, although there were controversies during the Reagan years. On the whole, however, environmental legislation was reauthorized, environmental funding grew, and things did move along. One could argue about the pace, but whichever side of a given environmental issue you were on, there was a broad consensus for a "command-and-control" approach to the environment—with the government either setting standards to be followed by the private sector or prescribing in detail the technology that the private sector must use to combat a particular environmental problem.
This is not to say that there were not complaints about the costs of environmental compliance, particularly from individual industries or companies that were impacted by a given environmental regulation. Those early costs, however, tended to be localized and tended to reap relatively large environmental benefits.
As we advanced into the late 1980s, however, further improvements to many areas of the environment became much more expensive, with fewer and fewer
apparent benefits. In addition, many corporations started "right-sizing" with resultant job losses, and there arose widespread concern about the phenomenon of wage stagnation, or "stagflation," with the slump in the economy, and public attention and concern increased about the costs of environmental regulation and their contribution to these problems.
In addition, many of the highly localized "end-of-the-pipe" problems had been largely dealt with by early regulations, and regulators began to extend their reach to address nonpoint sources, with far-reaching impacts over broad areas. Furthermore, the implementation of wetlands regulations authorized by the early 1980s extension of the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act regulations have had widespread impacts, particularly in the West. And with these increased impacts have come increased controversy, political polarization and adversity, which have strained and—in many cases—broken the old environmental consensus.
As an example of the current tenor of the debate, let me quote Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, from an article he authored in The Washington Times on July 27, 1995, as part of a special section entitled "Debate on the Environment: Which Way for Hill Reforms?" "The 104th Congress," said Carl, "has launched a fundamental assault on every American's right to a safe and healthy environment. This assault is cloaked in populist rhetoric, yet is funded by billion-dollar business interests that want to increase pollution of our air and water back to the levels of the 1960s, to cut down our national forests and obtain the right to wipe out wildlife on our public lands."
Now I could have quoted from other articles in this same special section from the opposing point of view that would have been just as vociferous against the environmental movement. But the point is that this sort of dialogue illustrates that indeed the old environmental consensus has broken down.
And so my principal recommendation—or perhaps plea—to the Academy, in addition to addressing those important technical issues raised by Tom Grumbly about risk assessment and the need to establish risk-based analysis, is to help devise ways and means to forge a new environmental consensus, which is beyond the ability of science and technology alone to answer but more appropriately within the realm of the social sciences. Whatever the final form of such a new environmental consensus, it will have to give results that are "cheaper, faster, better," that rely on much less government intrusion than in the past, and that rely largely on market-based solutions.
One of my favorite American philosophers that I like to quote is Groucho Marx, who once said that "[p]olitics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies." Unfortunately, in the past that's often been the case. However, the new budget climate, with the increased requirements for accountability and with fewer resources, means that we have to do it better. We can no longer look for trouble and find it everywhere—we can't afford it because we're going to find trouble practically
everywhere we look. And we can no longer afford incorrect diagnoses, nor can we afford wrong remedies. So, as I said earlier, if there is any way the Academy—realizing it is beyond the realm of science and technology alone—can address ways and means to forge a new environmental consensus, it would be extraordinarily helpful.
Congress also has to get its act together to properly address long-term problems, such as the environment. In spite of the downsizing of the House, which cut several committees and staff by one-third, there is still an enormously complex and laborious system in place, with something like 21 committees in both the House and the Senate, four joint committees, and some 187 subcommittees. It's very easy to get bogged down, particularly in environmental issues where jurisdictions are spread across a number of committees and subcommittees in the House and Senate.
At this point, I think I'll bring my remarks to a close and turn the floor over to my colleague from the Senate, Dave Garman. I look forward to participating in the remainder of this forum and continuing dialogue on this important topic.