"Emerging Issues in Environmental Policy."

The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

"Emerging Issues in Environmental Policy."


A conference, Sept. 30, 1999, cosponsored by the Wilson Center's Division of United States Studies and the Governance Institute.

Though the immediate environmental outlook for the rest of the world is far less rosy, in the United States and other developed Western nations, environmental conditions are almost certain to keep getting better, predicts Paul Portney, president of the Washington-based think tank Resources for the Future and a principal speaker at this conference.

Since Earth Day 1970, "air quality has improved phenomenally" in most metropolitan areas, and many major rivers, such as the Potomac and the Hudson, have been made safe for fishing and other activities. In the coming decades, Portney believes, natural gas increasingly will supplant coal and oil for the generation of electricity and other uses, and cars will be weaned off gasoline, eventually turning to hydrogen fuel cells.

But now the U.S. environmental agenda has begun to shift to more contentious issues, says Mary Graham, a Fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. The use of toxins and common chemicals, and pollution from farms and gas stations, dry cleaners, and other small businesses, are among the emerging issues. In the absence of technological "fixes," she suggests, the government will have to compel farmers, small business owners, motorists, homeowners, and private landowners to cease damaging the environment, even if that harms agricultural productivity, business profits, individual mobility, or property values. Graham anticipates clashes ahead "that will dwarf the battles of the last 30 years."

Looking at land-use issues, George Frampton, chair of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, observes that environmentalists seeking to protect America's forests have radically expanded their horizons in recent decades. …

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