Columbus Defining New Localism in Environmental Policy: Combines Sound Science with Citizen Participation

Article excerpt

An examination of our nation's environmental progress illustrates that we may be in both "the best of times" and "the worst of times."

"The best of times" refers to the past--the great advances our society has made over the last 25 years in reducing pollution in our air, water and soil. "The worst of times" could be the years ahead--environmental cleanup could slow significantly unless we begin to implement new, collaborative approaches to environmental management which are flexible, cost-effective, and based on both sound science and common sense.

By pursuing "end of the pipe" and "command and control" national environmental policies ,over, the, past ,two decades, we have substantially reduced the amount of pollution that harms our citizens on a daily basis. Targeted on large pollution sources, these strategies were planned and monitored in Washington, while local officials did the heavy lifting At one time, the national government helped us lift by providing grants and technical assistance for environmental improvements, but those days have ended.

Too often, however, the top-down, "one-size-fits-all " rules and reporting requirements for these national strategies had a predictable result et , the home town level: unfunded mandates and the imposition of a regulatory straightjacket that stifled local creativity in solving environmental problems. National Tunnel Vision

From our vantage point in Columbus, Ohio, the core of the problem is simple: Each separate Washington agency and each congressional subcommittee views our city through a straw. National policymakers tend to look at only one problem at a time. At the local level, life is more complicated.

In Columbus, as we moved to implement federal regulations on underground storage tanks, for example, frequently our actions did not correlate with what we were being told to do on stormwater runoff or drinking water safety.

National environmental mandates have an impact, good or bad, upon us. Sometimes those mandates have a rational and scientific basis; sometimes they do not. The problem is tunnel vision. Too often, it seems that no one in Washington makes any effort to see how all these rules interrelate, or even to correct laws and rules that may be operating at cross-purposes with one another Some positive steps have been taken recently, but more has to be done.

National policymakers forget that Columbus is a microcosm--an ecosystem--whose parts interact to form a living, breathing, dynamic region. Columbus is not just government, but also businesses--small, medium, and large--that we look to for economic energy and tax dollars.

Can the environment be protected without a national bureaucratic stranglehold? Out here in the heartland, we believe the answers "yes." In Columbus, our solution is to combine the promotion of sound science with increased citizen involvement. Two efforts that promote this policy are the Environmental Science Advisory Committee and Priorities '95.

Involving Local Scientists and Citizens in Risk Assessment

The mission of the Environmental Science Advisory Committee is to provide independent, technical advice to city hall on the scientific rationale, relevancy, and benefits of current or proposed federal or state environmental legislation or regulations. This committee of 18 environmental scientists, educators, engineers, and other professionals serves on a volunteer basis. …