John Wise*and Peter Truitt†
Deputy Regional Administrator, Region 9,* and Manager, National Environmental Goals Project,† U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
REVIEW OF PROPOSED NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL GOALS
While those papers are going around the room [handouts], I will proceed with my remarks. Thank you, Guy [Stever], for the nice introduction. You can in fact read my bio in your folders.
In December of this year, EPA will celebrate our 25th anniversary. This is an opportune time to assess where we have been for the first 25 years and position ourselves for the next 25 years. As a charter member of the EPA, having started in 1971, and a career executive in Region 9, in San Francisco, I want to offer you a perspective on this span of time and specifically on the evolution on environmental policy, which many of our commentaries this morning spoke about. I will be joined in my presentation by Peter Truitt, who is the manager of EPA's National Goals Project, who will outline the agency's work in progress on the national environmental goals.
As you know EPA was created in 1970 by a presidential executive order. The agency was not provided with an organic statute defining our mission and national environmental goals. EPA has fashioned a national environmental agenda out of the sum of many legislative parts. Today EPA administers a portfolio of some 14 major statutes, each one mandating a regulatory and enforcement structure to cleanup, abate, control, and remediate pollution releases. Most of these statutes are single purpose and media specific. And interestingly, each statute contains some form of a goal statement. For example, in the Clean Water Act there's a national goal for fishable and swimmable waters.
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
decision-making, and voluntary and cooperative actions—all of these as opposed to reliance on the prescriptive technology-based controls that currently prevail under existing law. We need to shift our regulatory and enforcement authorities from compliance assurance to compliance assistance. We need to facilitate investment in pollution prevention by businesses, and we need to shift our priorities from strictly human health protection to the long-term sustainability of ecosystems, looking specifically at restoration of the integrity of ecological processes. We need to merge environmental and economic policies for a long run sustainable future. And we need to set ambitious but realistic national targets for environmental improvement and measure our progress towards those goals.
Now I will outline the purpose and history of our National Environmental Goals Project, then ask my colleague Peter Truitt to provide a more detailed overview of the proposed goals. We've handed out a piece that will guide you through that dialogue.
First of all, why are we doing this? The purposes of the National Goals Project are twofold. Number one, to strengthen understanding and support for the national environmental agenda by describing the expected real-world improvements that will result if we do our jobs well. Number two, to manage better—to tie our plans, budgets, and program evaluations to environmental outcomes so that the investments we make with taxpayer money pay back in terms of measurable and recognizable environmental improvements.
This project didn't start yesterday. Indeed, back in 1992, former Administrator Bill Reilly launched it. The project languished for a while until current Administrator Carol Browner directed her staff to develop the goals with full public participation. That process has ensued over the last couple of years. In 1994, EPA held a series of nine public roundtables around the country, which discussed what the national goals should cover and how they might be expressed. That process was extraordinarily rewarding. When you gather a group of a hundred people into a room and spend a day talking about the future, you begin to sense the different values of the participants, the stakeholders. You see how the dialogue starts to shape a collective future. That kind of public engagement informs the process for articulating national goals. And that public process will, of course, continue through the formulation of the final goals. Because without public involvement these goals are essentially meaningless.
In early 1995, EPA prepared a summary goals report that was reviewed by many government agencies and participants of the roundtables. Some of the guidance that reviewers provided to us was that the goals should be more visionary, which I think means that they should inspire people towards a future and not just be numerical measures of this or that. Reviewers said that we should describe how we will attain these goals, including the costs and who will pay. We also engaged Congress in the process, who came back to us saying, ''Which goals and which milestones ought to be priorities? Just because we can attain these targets doesn't mean we should." I think that joins the debate we heard this morning
about congressional intentions. But I believe that engaging the public who want a visionary statement, looking at the costs and the benefits, considering who's going to pay, and considering the question of priorities are all substantive issues that the agency is wrestling with.
The revised draft is now nearing completion. We will circulate it for review during October-November. I invite the National Academy to look at our goals and consider them in your own deliberations. Ultimately, if the government and public reviews go well, and we gain some measure of consensus, we plan on releasing the goals report by Earth Day 1996.
With that overview, let me ask Peter Truitt to walk us through the substance of the goals report. And then we'll wrap up and have a brief discussion.
Thanks John. As John mentioned, last February we circulated a goals summary report to government agencies and the 1994 roundtable participants for comment. Reviewers wanted more detailed information on how we propose to attain the 10-year targets and on the economics, and they wanted a more visionary quality to the document. We are doing our best to respond to these concerns.
The current draft begins with an explanation of why EPA is developing the goals, how it is doing so, how the goals and milestones will be used in managing the agency, and how we intend to address the issue of priorities. We then propose a vision statement, which I will go into in a minute. Next, we describe the seven guiding principles that are shaping EPA's operations under the Browner administration: (1) Prevent pollution. (2) Be a partner. (3) Strengthen science and information. (4) Protect all communities equally. (5) Protect ecosystems. (6) Promote environmental accountability. (7) Reduce costs and red tape.
The report then examines the goals in the major laws administered by EPA. The message here is that few of our laws have measurable environmental goals. The 1990 Clean Air Act is an exception, with its targets for cities to meet air quality standards by specific years.
The meat of the report is the presentation of the long-range goals, the milestones for 2005, and the strategies to attain them. There are now 15 goals. They cover clean air, climate change risk reduction, stratospheric ozone layer restoration, clean waters, healthy terrestrial ecosystems, healthy indoor environments, safe drinking water, safe food, safe workplaces, preventing accidental releases (like Chernobyl and Exxon Valdez), toxic-free communities through preventing wastes, safe waste management, restoration of contaminated sites, reducing global environmental risks, and better information and education to improve environmental understanding.
For each of these, there is a long-range goal statement and a set of milestones. The milestones include a discussion of what we know about past trends, how the 2005 target level was set, and the data we will use to track progress.
Also, for each goal there is a strategy section providing an overview of the current approaches EPA is taking to achieve the set of milestones.
The report winds up with a section on overall costs and benefits. We had hoped to discuss the economics relating to each goal and its 10-year targets, but we simply don't have the information to do that now.
Now, it's important to understand that we are not announcing these goals. We're proposing them. We're proposing them to federal and state government agencies, Congress, and the American people. After our government review of the proposals, we'll be having discussions with the public. We'll probably have a second set of roundtables. Given the kind of specifics in this report, it will make for a very educated, enlivening discussion about what Americans are trying to accomplish in environmental protection.
John mentioned that earlier public reviewers thought the report should be "visionary." We are proposing the following vision statement for the U.S. Environment:
We envision a 21st century America where healthy and economically secure people sustain and are sustained by a healthy environment. Everyone breathes clean air, drinks clean water, and eats safe food. Homes and workplaces are free from toxic pollutants. We swim and fish in clean waters in the cities and the countryside and enjoy the gifts of nature in our neighborhoods. All Americans have a respect for nature. We use and recycle natural resources efficiently. Clean and plentiful energy fuels a growing economy. The renewal of diverse, thriving communities of plants and animals offers bright prospects for prosperity and fulfillment for generations to come.
The 15 goals and 76 milestones are proposals for policy statements and measures of progress, with targets, for moving toward this vision. The milestones are being developed in a number of ways. Some of them (a very few of them) are actual statutory, regulatory, or treaty requirements, such as clean air, climate change, and stratospheric ozone targets. But most of the rest are discretionary t targets, established by EPA staff using their professional judgment about what we realistically can achieve if we as a nation do a good job protecting the environment. We assumed continuation of existing and planned EPA programs, funded at the 1995 level. Of course the government share of the environmental protection costs is pretty small. Achieving some of the milestones may require substantially more societal expenditures.
John mentioned the statement by a Senate Appropriations Committee staff person that just because we can attain these targets doesn't mean we should. It's a very revealing statement, given the budget situation. I should note that the goals and milestones were not selected mindless of risk. We cover every one of the high risk problems identified by EPA's Science Advisory Board in the Reducing Risk report, which many of you may be familiar with. We also have goals for six subjects that the Science Advisory Board did not consider to be high risk. But many of these, such as waste cleanup, are of high interest to Congress and the
American people. Also, achieving the waste goals will, of course, contribute to achieving many of the other goals such as clean water. They're all linked together, so it is hard to evaluate the risk reduction associated with one milestone.
Aside from the criticisms I mentioned earlier, we have heard very positive comments about the goals project. People are saying, congratulations EPA, at last you are delivering an environmental results management tool that's going to be very useful. It is a strong direction-setting document. It's useful not only for planning and budgeting, but for program evaluation. As time goes by, we will be reporting whether we are above our targets, or below them, and why. So it's an evaluation tool. And it will be useful for communicating with people in terms of results.
There are some issues that concern us. Will our report stand up to scrutiny by scientists and economists? We don't know yet. Is it unrealistic to assume continued societal investments and government programs? We believe the American people are willing to invest in environmental protection that promises results. Are all the goals equally important? Probably not. Perhaps we should be setting higher targets for higher-risk problems and paying for them by easing the targets for lower-risk problems. It makes conceptual sense, but drawing conclusions from the information we currently have is difficult.
With that I'm going to turn it back over to John Wise who will wrap up.
I'll wrap up briefly. As you can see, the scope of this endeavor is truly heroic, and to the extent that we are successful in engaging a public process, that we can withstand the scrutiny of the science community and the economic community, we will actually propose a set of goals for America next year.
How is all of this going to be used? That's an important question. When these goals become generally accepted as part of the country's environmental agenda, we will then craft EPA's strategic plan to chart a course to the milestones. We'll use that strategy with the milestone targets as a base for our annual planning and budgeting, and to develop our performance agreements with state and local agencies—which as I mentioned earlier, carry the majority of the load in terms of environmental protection at a state and local level. We'll also use the goals-based strategic plan to fulfill some of our obligations under the Government Performance and Results Act.
Lastly and most importantly, we'll prepare annual reports for the public that explain the progress that we're making—or not making—and reaffirm our commitment to environmental quality. So with that, let us stop and listen to you.