End Environmental Extremism

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT Clinton's commitment to an activist environmental agenda seems apparent in his appointment of Carol Browner, head of Florida's Department of Environmental Regulation, to run the Environmental Protection Agency. She is, worries one businessman, in favor of "very rigorous environmental regulation."

The problem is not that Ms. Browner favors conservation, but that she, despite her pronouncements to the contrary, seems likely to promote the sort of command-and-control regulation that is responsible for today's nearly $150 billion in annual compliance costs, as well as the $40 billion or so in added expenses likely to come from full implementation of the Clean Air Act. Unfortunately, these big bills do not translate into better protection.

If Browner truly cares about the environment, she needs to rescue conservation policy from politics. Her first job should be to reassure the American people that, despite persistent scare-mongering, we have been making real progress: Between 1970 and 1986 the amount of particulates spewed into the air fell by 64 percent, carbon monoxide emissions dropped 38 percent, and releases of volatile organic compounds fell by 29 percent.

What were once thought to be fearsome hazardous waste sites, such as Love Canal and Times Beach, now appear to be far less dangerous.

Browner's second important task is to rebut popular but dubious environmentalist claims of imminent catastrophe. For instance, in 1989 the Natural Resources Defense Council used a public relations agency to attack the pesticide Alar. The charges received wide attention, yet were contrary to the overwhelming weight of evidence. As Dr. Joseph Rosen of Rutgers University explained, "There was never any legitimate scientific study to justify the Alar scare."

Perhaps the most serious example of environmental politics infecting science is the issue of global warming. Prophecies of climatic catastrophe are not new. In 1981 Fred Hoyle's "Ice: The Ultimate Human Catastrophe" appeared, warning that "when the ice comes, most of northern America, Britain, and northern Europe will disappear under the glaciers.... The right conditions can arise within a single decade." He advocated warming the oceans to forestall this "ultimate human catastrophe. …