STEADY rain is now falling on the United States environmental
movement - not acid rain, but rain filled with enough
anti-ecological sourness to bring out a big umbrella.
Faced with clouds of increased criticism from Congress and
states because of the burgeoning costs of protecting the
environment, a coalition of 15 leading US environmental
organizations reacted with an urgent letter-writing campaign
launched in early July.
"We have never faced such a serious threat to our environmental
laws," stated the unusual collaborative letter critical of pending
congressional legislation to amend environmental laws.
The new climate involves a major push to analyze risks and to
assess the costs and benefits of solutions to environmental issues.
It arises mainly from those states and localities facing the high
costs of meeting federal mandates for environmental cleanup or
preservation. The familiar "one size fits all" kind of
environmental law adds costly burdens to states with differing
needs and regional variations.
Two bills on risk assessment are working their way through the
US House and Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee said in a
report the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should fund
research to improve comparative risk analysis, and it asked the
agency "to provide a report within 60 days" (after a bill passes)
on plans to use comparative risk analysis to set national
environmental goals. Behind the pressure is a visible shift in
environmental politics. Environmental issues, shaped in the past
mostly as national issues with broad laws against heavy industry,
now have become more localized.
Home town pollution
Local and state polluters, such as water districts,
waste-treatment plants, and local businesses are now under more
scrutiny, and face restrictions and regulations.
But environmentalists are leery of the call for change. "In
simple form, risk analysis is a way to subvert regulations, a way
to look at fiscal impacts of regulatory actions and decide whether
or not they are appropriate," says Scott Faber from American
Rivers in Washington. "I think you define risk another way. What
is the threat posed to human health and the environment?"
According to estimates from the EPA, states and local
governments will spend more than 30 percent of their revenues
fulfilling environmental mandates by the year 2000. One requirement
of the Clean Water Act is that water systems in every city and town
have to be monitored for pineapple herbicides.
The environmental coalition letter was sent to millions of
members. Among other issues it criticized the push for extensive
cost-benefit and risk analysis as the way to establish
environmental priorities in an era of tight budgets. …