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Lindy Scott: Environmental Care and Policy

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Lindy Scott on care of the environment:

"This week let's look at our environment.

Environmental policy is at a crossroads. Decades ago, recognition of such problems as acid rain spurred the development of many effective policy mechanisms for their abatement. Air and water quality improvements have been among the most significant achievements of federal environmental management efforts since that time. But recent concerns about the burdens of environmental management have created a quite different regulatory atmosphere.

Many complain that environmental regulation is onerous, and with the government’s increasing commitment to free trade, some corporations have chosen to locate operations in countries with lower environmental standards, spoiling the international environment while further burdening laborers at home and abroad. But environmental and economic concerns need not be at odds. Indeed, many important environmental policy achievements have also been significant economic accomplishments. The establishment of Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards was originally intended both to reduce harmful air pollution and to promote competitiveness on behalf of the United States auto industry. But while such past accomplishments of federal environmental policy are significant, important environmental issues remain to be addressed. And we must do so with concern for both stewardship and justice—between generations and among members of this generation..

Climate change. Due to the emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, the average surface temperature of the earth is increasing with important implications for the global climate. Left unchecked, climate change will have significant negative effects both in the United States and abroad. But while it is a truly global phenomenon, its burdens fall largely upon the poor of this generation and upon our children and grandchildren. Climate change is also one of the primary causes of the extinction of certain species and signals the certain demise of some of the world’s most charismatic landscapes. The United States emits more greenhouse gases than any other country in the world and therefore shares the responsibility to reduce emissions and stabilize climate. For this reason, we should couple domestic measures with a renewed commitment to international negotiations for a binding emissions reduction strategy. A recommitment to multilateralism in environmental policy should be buttressed by a robust domestic policy. Fortunately, many state and local governments have developed climate change action plans and taken other measures that may prove instructive in planning for national strategies. Reform in energy and transportation sectors can be an important contribution to a climate stable future and are among priorities in this regard.

Biological diversity. A biodiverse future is equally important to the environment we leave to our children. Unfortunately, research shows an estimated three species are lost every day. And while this is clearly an issue of environmental stewardship, its social consequences are significant. Biodiversity is the linchpin of ecological integrity and many environmental goods and services are dependent upon it. The Endangered Species Act is the most significant federal mechanism for promoting domestic biodiversity. Strengthening the act and promoting the integrity of protected areas are important means by which to ensure a biodiverse future in the United States. Attending to the emission of greenhouse gases—thus supporting a climate stable future—will also promote biodiversity at home and abroad by addressing two of the most important causes of extinction: climate change and increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.

Air and water quality. Setting minimum air and water quality levels has been an important function of the federal government’s environmental policy agenda for decades. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act remain significant tools for promoting public health and environmental integrity. Policies such as these, which regulate pollutant levels, help to secure a better environment now and for the future. Such regulations also advance equity in environmental quality between states and localities; without common minimum quality levels, states and municipalities could be caught in a ‘race to the bottom,’ attracting investment through the elimination of environmental regulations. These policies provide for environmental integrity while being sensitive to issues of economy and social equity.

Environmental justice. Social dimensions of environmental quality are among the many important facets of environmental policy. Marginalized and vulnerable communities continue to suffer disproportionately from environmental hazards. The federal government can play a significant role in the promotion of environmental justice. But environmental justice should not simply be a matter of fairly distributing environmental ills. Rather, we should carefully consider the ramifications of any policy for the distribution of environmental quality, ensuring access to a healthy environment now, as well as in the future.

These issues are complex and challenging. The role of the federal environmental policy should be to orchestrate a harmonious relationship between environmental stewardship, social equity, and economic interests. Policy measures should be sensitive to all three concerns, reflecting their potential concurrence and taking advantage of mutual gain at every possible occasion.

My policies are definitely a team effort. Special recognition goes to my colleague Noah Toly, Ph.D. candidate at the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, University of Delaware, for his excellent work on this issue."
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