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.
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
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. …