Saving Our Environment from Washington

Article excerpt

Saving Our Environment from Washington by David Schoenbrod Yale University Press * 2005 * 320 pages * $28

Reviewed by Jane S. Shaw

In recent years several environmental activists have revealed dramatic changes in their views about environmental issues. Patrick Moore confronted hostile ships and governments as he sailed the seas in the Rainbow Warrior as a founder of Greenpeace, but today he charges his former colleagues with "everincreasing extremism." Bjørn Lomborg, a college instructor and Greenpeace member, once assumed that apocalyptic environmental predictions were correct, but after he studied the facts he concluded that "things are getting better." Now David Schoenbrod, formerly an attorney with the litigious environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), explains how his ideas about environmental regulation depart from what they were when he was (in his words) a "proper liberal" and moved in "elite environmental circles."

Schoenbrod's metamorphosis has been going on for about a quarter of a century. As an environmental litigator with NRDC, his goal was to pressure the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force polluters to clean up. Today, he takes a different view, which can be summed up with two statements. One is that pollution control should be a state and local, rather than national, issue. The second is that legislative bodies (such as Congress) should make the rules and regulations about pollution, rather than leave them up to bureaucratic agencies such as the EPA.

First, Schoenbrod sees the issue as a constitutional one. He argues that Congress should only regulate interstate pollution, and he points out that most pollution is local. Where national rules are appropriate, he argues that Congress, not the EPA, should be making them.Yet EPA's reams of regulations developed outside the legislative process amount to laws. "When I became an environmental advocate," he writes, "I regarded questions about the constitutionality of the EPA's power as the last refuge of polluters, and I litigated accordingly. . . . Experience has since taught me that those constitutional ideals are the safest road to the public interest, including the public's deeply felt interest in a clean earth."

Although this book is Schoenbrod's third in dealing with the role of government, it is the first in which he shares his personal experiences as his ideas changed. He writes in a conversational way to make the book appealing to the nonspecialist. …