Environmental Apocalypse Now: Environmental Protection Agency Policies as Threats to the Environment

By Cheek, Ronald G.; Crow, Stephen M. et al. | Industrial Management, May/June 1995 | Go to article overview
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Environmental Apocalypse Now: Environmental Protection Agency Policies as Threats to the Environment

Cheek, Ronald G., Crow, Stephen M., Hartman, Sandra J., Industrial Management

When considering issues of the regulator's role in overseeing industry it is helpful to review the history of the relationship between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and industry. Over the years, there has been a confrontational relationship between government and business, and specifically between the EPA and industry. How and why has this occurred?

The origins of the EPA can be traced to the environmental movement. By 1969, public opinion concerning environmental issues had become sufficiently solidified to bring about the adoption of a national statement of policy on the environment. This national statement was driven primarily by the media's exposure of environmental issues. As a result of the widespread belief that industry was not always responding to its social responsibilities, environmental social issues became public policy through legislation and regulations regarding environmental protection. On January 1, 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act (Public Law 91-190) was signed into law by President Nixon. With the passage of this legislation, the nation now had an explicit policy for dealing with environmental issues; the law required government agencies to account for the environmental impacts of their decisions.

Fears of an environmental "doomsday" spawned the EPA. Many Americans believed that socio-economic trends would result (or have resulted) in irreparable damage to the environment. Thus, the EPA was charged with preventing an environmental apocalypse.

Throughout the history of the environmental movement, there has been considerable debate about if, when, and how the environment would collapse. The media has fanned the flame of controversy. There seems to be an inordinate amount of media attention paid to themes of environmental calamity. It is not altogether clear why this is so. Are overzealous environmentalists manipulating the media? Or is the media simply biased toward themes of environmental doom? Or could it be that the media is pandering to an American public titillated by and hungry for sensationalism.

"Scenarios of global warming are much more exciting for the viewer than pictures showing that what the world's population needs most are more lavatories and better sewage systems," suggests Wilfred Beckerman, Oxford professor.

The media has given much attention to predictions of global, environmental apocalypse by the EPA, the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), and Vice President Al Gore. However, opinions stated as facts merely to gain media attention and create a sense of urgency or panic will not work in the long-term. Overstatements made in the past are already coming back to haunt the environmental movement. Environmental alarmists jeopardize the creditability of all those who advocate policies and programs to protect the environment. Should the general public lose faith in environmentalists, there is a risk that the environmental movement will be written off as the folly of "whackos."

The doomsday scenario dominated the 1970s. Environmental activists believed that a new agenda of aggressive and comprehensive programs were needed to save the planet. The EPA led the charge and American industrialists bore the brunt of implementing technically difficult and expensive programs.

However, by the early 1980s, many people bean to take issue with themes of doom and the sense of urgency and expense associated with environmental concerns. As a result, the EPA modified its agenda. The agency endeavored to make regulations more efficient and effective and to develop research and monitoring procedures to support and supervise ongoing environmental programs. In many instances, EPA analyses supported what industry already knew--that implementing environmental programs was more technically and economically difficult than originally anticipated. All in all, the EPA did not appear to be making much progress. The agency and American industry were not on the same page.

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