PROVISIONS in the United States House Republicans' "Contract
With America" risk dismantling our federal system of environmental
protection without creating an acceptable alternative. Yet, a
return to political trench warfare by environmentalists and liberal
Democrats will alienate the substantial majority of Americans
committed to better stewardship but weary of partisan politics.
Instead of drawing the battle line between the Contract and the
status quo, they should propose a new approach that guarantees
continued environmental progress while tackling conservatives'
legitimate concerns over regulatory costs, red tape, and runaway
The Netherlands and New Zealand offer 21st-century blueprints
for such a reform. Their groundbreaking environmental initiatives
move well beyond our fragmented single-issue approach to
environmental problems and our costly reliance on government
regulation and enforcement. By holding producers accountable to
comprehensive, long-term goals, rather than short-term regulatory
mandates, these countries are improving their environment and their
THE Netherlands established their National Environmental Policy
Plan (NEPP) in 1989. In a historic change of course, the government
decided to prioritize environmental ends over regulatory means.
Today, comprehensive goals guide the efforts of Dutch government,
industry, and the public to create a sustainable economy in 25
years, or one generation. The NEPP was developed through public
consultation and won unanimous parliamentary support - from the
Christian Democrats to the Greens. The Dutch have also persuaded
the European Economic Community to follow suit.
American critics will claim that such an undertaking harms
economic competitiveness and costs jobs. Yet, both Dutch business
and labor disagree; they firmly back the NEPP. The country's
80,000-firm strong Federation of Industries even sent its chief
environmental negotiator to the United States to brief executives
on the model. The Dutch private sector has already signed more than
50 nonregulatory, voluntary covenants with the government designed
to lower emissions and improve resource efficiency. Voluntary
covenants include formal commitments to specific targets, but also
give companies the flexibility to incorporate new technologies and
The covenant approach is working. The Dutch government kept
existing environmental standards in place to safeguard against
backsliding. But, liberated from the procedural and legal
straitjacket of regulatory compliance, whole industries are now
ahead of schedule in attaining the NEPP's 25-year goals.
Although less tested than the Dutch NEPP, New Zealand's Resource
Management Act (RMA) of 1991 is a profound example of government
reform. It, too, emerged through extensive citizen participation.
Implemented by a conservative government, the RMA makes Republican
and Clinton administration reform proposals look tepid in
comparison. The RMA has replaced 57 separate resource-management,
urban-planning, and environmental laws. It has also dramatically
reduced bureaucratic confusion and overlap by consolidating 800
government bodies into 93, and by establishing 14 resource
agencies, each fully responsible for the integrated management of
an entire watershed.
Clearly, the Netherlands and New Zealand are not the United