IN SPITE OF the volume and scope of environmental legislation passed in the 1970s, certain environmental problems seem to persist or even grow worse while new ones continue to appear. This is the source of considerable dissatisfaction with existing environmental legislation. Equally perplexing is the slow pace at which certain improvements occur. And most serious, perhaps, is the recognition that both our successes and our failures in the area of environmental quality improvement are extremely expensive--perhaps excessively so. For example, in the 1976 report of the Council on Environmental Quality, it is estimated that the nation will spend more than $250 billion between 1975 and 1984 to meet the requirements of the major federal environmental laws. By 1977, voters were more aware than ever before that these costs mean higher taxes and product prices or perhaps lower wages than would be the case in the absence of environmental protection.
Because improvements to environmental quality have proved to be elusive, slow to occur, or much more expensive to achieve than we would prefer, and because the environment will continue to loom large as a national concern, this is an appropriate time to review the status of major environmental legislation, to discuss several key issues surrounding it, and to suggest ways in which the legislation might be improved.
This review of U.S. environmental policy is appropriate for another reason. During the campaign that preceded President Jimmy Carter's election in 1976, he repeatedly emphasized his desire to reorganize the government and deregulate the private sector where at all possible. These words gained some force when he chose as the chairman of his Council of Economic Advisors, Charles Schultze, whose Godkin Lectures at Harvard