Academic journal article Environmental Law

The Environment and World Trade

Academic journal article Environmental Law

The Environment and World Trade

Article excerpt

From the earliest days of federal environmental legislation some two decades ago, the American political Scene has been deluged by dire warnings that the effort to curb pollution would carry unbearable costs. Like clockwork, each new proposal for tighter environmental controls has been followed inexorably by a claim that the new proposal, if implemented, would sound a death knell for a particular industry, if not for the American way of life.

Nor have years of experience to the contrary broken this cycle. Time after time, we hear claims:

* that cleaning up our nation's waters will threaten industries and precipitate economic ruin;

* that fighting acid rain and urban air pollution will bankrupt our citizens and cause social disruption of unimaginable proportions;

* that protecting natural resources means throwing hardworking people out of work;

* in sum, that, reducing pollution eliminates profits and eliminates jobs.

These claims - no matter how often they are repeated, no matter how persistently they reappear in our public debate - are wrong. They are wrong no matter how frequently they are used for purposes of political expediency, no matter how many times they are used to distort the real challenges and real issues that lie before us.

Tragically, these misrepresentations were embraced wholeheartedly by former President Bush during his landmark trip to the Earth Summit in Rio - which I refer to as a landmark only because it represents one of the historic lows in the annals of American diplomacy. The Clash of environmental ideals embodied in the debate over Rio had their domestic counterparts during the Presidential campaign. In the end, it was a difference of philosophy that helped elect Bill Clinton President.

Before and during the Rio summit, President Bush told the American people and the world that he would not be party to any agreement that would cost Americans their jobs. The implication was that a coordinated global effort to protect our planet from water pollution, ozone depletion, tropical forest loss, air pollution and other threats would be ruinous to the American economy.

President Bush's message may have been pleasing to the ears of Americans on the political far-right, who instinctively hate - as they have since the days of Woodrow Wilson - all efforts at multilateral cooperation. His message may also have pleased certain leaders in American big business, who instinctively hate the imposition of any government standard, whether it relates to automobile seat-belts, product labelling, or the dumping of toxic waste.

But his message was nonetheless little more than the propagation, once again, of a myth-a very dangerous myth.

The truth is that decades of experience with legally-mandated environmental protection in our nation has made it clear that economic progress does not require environmental degradation, that American prosperity does not require rivers that are biologically dead, or waste sites that spontaneously catch fire, or air that burns the eyes, or soils that cannot support life.

What we have found in this country, through a considerable body of experience over tile past two decades, is that economic progress and prosperity are not, in the long term, at odds with environmental protection. in fact, economic progress and prosperity require environmental protection.

This lesson is true not only for the United States but for the world. Brazil and Costa Rica have found that their forests are worth protecting for practical reasons of long-term development. Poland and Hungary have found that cleaner air makes for good economics. Russia and Thailand have found that clean water will help their countries' future.

Nations around the globe have recognized a fact: that the environment and the economy are linked - not in the way that President Bush asserted, but positively: A thriving economy requires a sound environment. …

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