|HOW CLEAN IS CLEAN ENOUGH?|
September 12, 1997
Questions asked in this forum:
When will Govt. agencies be inspected for environmental compliance? Will diesel fuel ever be banned? Should the U.S. instigate a fee-based system to control pollution? What explains the increasing number of asthma cases? Will stricter standards in the U.S. increase pollution from Mexico? What lessons can environmentalists learn from the fight against the cigarette industry? Where does a breath of fresh air fit into a cost-benefit analysis? Additional comments...
June 25, 1997:
Margaret Warner leads a discussion of the tougher clean air standards.
June 25, 1997:
Read our Online Forum: U.S.Representatives Julia Carson (D-IN) and Jim Gibbons (R-NV) debated the effectiveness of the EPA.
November 27, 1996:
The Environmental Protection Agency proposes to reduce smog levels by a third.
December 21, 1995:
Spencer Michels reports on the changing role of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of the environment.
Environmental Protection Agency
Citizens for a Sound Economy advocates market-based solutions to public policy problems.
Air Quality Resources on the Internet.
Clean Air Act Information Network
A question from Doug Zepplin of Menlo Park, CA:
Is the federal government better at handling pollution reduction than the states? I used to live in California where the legislature year after year relaxes the amount of pollution from automobiles, rice burning, diesel, etc. What is the point of passing stricter standards if they are not enforced? As far as I know, the Federal government has more resources, but it is not allowed to take charge... and the states just try to get by--often creating expensive bureaucracies that serve only to keep the federal regulators at bay.
Paul Beckner of "Citizens for a Sound Economy" responds:
Bigger is not better, especially when it comes to government. Washington's bureaucracy is ill equipped to design, implement and enforce approaches to environmental protection in the 21st century. Its command-and-control, one-size-fits-all mentality falsely assumes that all communities are identical, and it stymies creativity while wasting scarce resources.
There are countless, sad tales of ordinary citizens trapped in the nightmarish world of government's good intentions run amok. Barbara Williams of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for example, risks the loss of her restaurant (and her two dozen workers face the loss of their jobs) unless she forks over more than $75,000 to help pay for the clean up of a Superfund site. She's being sued as a "toxic dumper" because her restaurant's leftover mashed potatoes and lemon peels had been legally deposited at that landfill! And while the bureaucrats do their thing and the lawyers collect their hefty fees, the landfill (some even question if it is in fact a legitimate health threat) still hasn't been cleaned up.
Citizens for a Sound Economy supports approaches to environmental protection that lead to problem solving, not merely handing out punishment. That's why we advocate risk-based decision making, increased state control and flexibility for business and industry to fix their problems without fear of reprisal. In the final analysis, states are best able to determine the best way of approaching their own environmental problems. The role of federal government as chief nanny is inefficient and unnecessary.
And finally, Doug, you make a good point that standards which can never be achieved have no place being imposed by government. As illogical as it sounds, the EPA proceeded to dictate new air standards even as it admitted 47 counties across the nation will never be able to achieve compliance with them.
Carol Browner of the Environmental Protection Agency responds:
Federal, state and local governments all have important roles to play in reducing pollution. Under the Clean Air Act, for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to set national air quality standards. State and local governments then develop plans to meet those standard. Because state and local officials are closer to the problems and know the kinds of solutions that would best work in their areas, they have the flexibility to design the kinds of programs needed to address their local problems.
The federal government assists state and local governments by regulating emissions from those sources that are appropriate to address from a national perspective -- automobiles and trucks, for example. The federal government also provides the technical expertise and guidance necessary to help the states and local governments meet their air quality challenges. If the states do not develop or implement the necessary programs, the Clean Air Act requires the federal government to take steps to ensure that the needed air pollution reductions take place. This is a useful tool, but one that is very seldom necessary because by and large state and local governments do an excellent job of addressing their air pollution problems.
In certain cases air pollution can become more of a "regional" rather than a local problem -- this is because air pollution can move with the wind and weather patterns and does not respect political boundaries. Emissions from power plants, for example, can contribute to pollution problems in states hundreds of miles downwind. In these cases, the federal government can work in partnership with the states to develop an appropriate "regional" solution to the problem. In fact, the new strengthened ozone, or "smog," standard will be implemented through the use of a regional, state-sponsored plan to address the long-distance transport of ozone.