Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Group Plans New Federal Agency Committee Envisions Clearinghouse for Environmental Information

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Group Plans New Federal Agency Committee Envisions Clearinghouse for Environmental Information

Article excerpt

The year is 2005, and a cable company in St. Louis County unearths rusting barrels oozing chemicals in a school yard. Whom does the principal call? The police? The Environmental Protection Agency? A lawyer?

Rather than dialing any telephone, she might swing around to her computer terminal and log on to the Internet. There she might find just what she needs to know in the National Environmental Library, put in cyberspace by something called the National Institute for the Environment.

She might learn that, if the drums contain lead and metal wastes, as lettering on them suggests, she won't need to evacuate the school. She might learn whom to call for an opinion and who will analyze the soil. She might have a good idea in a few minutes whether the chemicals pose any danger to her middle school students. She might even have learned to track the company whose name is stenciled on the drums.

In short, says Peter Saundry, a proponent of the new computer library, people could act responsibly when confronted with environmental questions rather than heading immediately into court or spending money needlessly.

"Maybe they find something to worry about, but maybe they also find a model program right there in Missouri to handle the problem rather than dealing with it in an expensive way," Saundry said. Consolidating Research

The problem now, he says, is that the computer library doesn't exist because the National Institute for the Environment does not exist. Saundry is the executive director of the committee working to set up this new government agency, an idea that will be debated in Congress early next year.

The new institute would:

Combine research efforts now scattered among the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and 20 federal agencies.

Look not just at immediate risks but at long-term questions about dangers of environmental destruction and the costs to society of removing pollution.

Set up a governing board made up of state and local officials, along with representatives of industries and environmental groups.

The list of supporters is weighty. Environmental advocacy groups from the Sierra Club to the Gorilla Foundation have embraced the plan. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has formally endorsed it as have museums, churches and the U.S. Council of Mayors. Many universities have signed on, among them the University of Missouri campuses at Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City and Southern Illinois University.

Monsanto Co., of St. Louis, is among the companies providing the financial backing - $20,000 since last year to the committee that is pushing to make the National Institute for the Environment a reality. …

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