Environmental Protection in the United States: Industry, Agencies, Environmentalists

Environmental Protection in the United States: Industry, Agencies, Environmentalists

Environmental Protection in the United States: Industry, Agencies, Environmentalists

Environmental Protection in the United States: Industry, Agencies, Environmentalists

Excerpt

Do Americans today enjoy greater environmental protection than they did a generation ago? One would hope so, given the hundreds of billions of dollars spent by the federal government and private industry just for pollution control since that time. And, in fact, most data indicate cleaner air and water throughout the nation. Yet, many environmental analysts argue, neither the dozens of environmental laws nor a strong environmental movement has slowed the degradation of the natural environment. And we are not at any less risk from the life-threatening technologies that generate nuclear and toxic waste which contaminate the groundwater, surface water and the air. We know more now than a generation ago about the dangers to our health and environment and, realizing that we have not regulated the most dangerous pollutants, we have scarcely begun to do the major work of environmental protection.

Still another large group of informed scientists and policymakers hesitates to calculate the gains in environmental protection. Environmental quality undoubtedly would be worse, they say, without the legislation during this period, but they also point out more serious risks and problems that have eluded an easy solution, such as widespread groundwater contamination, indoor air pollution, chemical plant safety risks and acid rain. And, they correctly state, many other air and water quality standards established over a decade ago still have not been implemented or enforced in many regions of the country. A large number among this group wonder whether environmental gains have exceeded losses in the last 20 or more years.

There are various reasons it is difficult to find easy answers to the question of environmental protection. The notion itself encompasses many sets of problems that are not easily related. What is the common denominator for two such basic environmental concerns as wilderness protection and indoor air pollution? Which deserves regulatory priority? How should priorities be established? How much regulatory weight should be given to the business costs of a regulation? Should human health concerns be given regulatory precedence over ecological . . .

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