Article "The Politics of Sustainability"

Material Information

Article "The Politics of Sustainability"
School of the Environment


Subjects / Keywords:
Environmental protection ( jstor )
Paradigms ( jstor )
Cleaning ( jstor )
Spatial Coverage:
North America -- United States of America -- Florida


Jake Varn Collection - Article "The Politics of Sustainability" (JDV Box 39)
General Note:
Box 29, Folder 2 ( Land Use and Water Planning Task Force - 1994 ), Item 5
Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.

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Source Institution:
Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Holding Location:
Levin College of Law, University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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Milledge Iden & Held

Allan Milledge OF COUNSEL:
Bruce Franklin Iden Florence Snyder Rivam
Gary M. ITeld. P.A. John M. Milledge. P.A.
Danae J. McEIroy

March 30, 1994

Ms. Victoria Tschinkel i! APR 0 4 19g l|
Landers & Parsons
310 W. College Avenue L LLJ
Tallahassee, Florida 32301 ------------------

Land and Water Task Force

Dear Vicky:

The enclosed article may be suitable for "summer reading"
for our task force. The last page, in particular, is useful
analysis. Are we willing to recognize the clash between
"environment" and development? If so, will we give "environment"
a fighting chance?

I'm not sure that our debate will represent a "conflict
in values" but I am sure that our final product will reflect the
values we aspire to, in general within the paradigms described by
Michael Colby.

Best regards.


Allan Milledge



SUITE 600 2100 PONCE DE LEON BOULEVARD MIAMI, FLORIDA 33134 TELEPHONE (305) 445-1500 FAX (305) 446-9972


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The politics



The following is excerpted from remarks by Michael Rodemeyer, chief counsel of the
Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in the United States House of
Representatives, at the Environmental Careers Colloquium hosted by the Duke
School of the Environment on October 29. The colloquium, Hindsight is 20/20,
featured 30 alumni who offered career advice to current students.

T 'he tidle of today's colloquium, Hind-
sight is 20/20, is particularly appropri-
ate to my topic this afternoon. I would
like to step back from the usual focus on
the hot environmental issue of the day
and take a broader look at the development of environ-
mental regulation over the last 25 years or so. It seems
to be an occupational hazard of working in Washington
that we always get caught up in the "If it's Tuesday, it
must be wetlands" mentality. Sometimes, to find out
where we are going (and where the jobs may be in the
future), it is helpful to know where we have been.
My comments will address four related issues:
first, our experience in trying to protect the environ-
ment; second, some lessons from that experience for
today's politics of sustainability; third, the role of sci-
ence in breaking environmental gridlock; and last,
some speculation on where we go from here-and how
you might fit in.

It is possible to discern two different "waves" of
environmental regulation. The first wave, lasting
through the 1960s and the early 1970s, might be called
the local phase. The sources of pollution were fairly
obvious. Rapidly expanding industrial facilities openly

sent a stew of pollutants into the air and waterways.
Growing communities sent their untreated wastes into
rivers and streams. Such pollution point sources were
ubiquitous features of the landscape. When drivers had
to turn their car lights on during the daytime in Gary,
IN, or when the snow fell red downwind from
Pittsburgh, it did not take a rocket scientist to figure
out what the problems were.
Nor did it seem like a federal problem. The
causes and effects of pollution were all localized. As a
result, the federal role in the early environmental
statutes, such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water
Act, was largely limited to research and development
and technical and financial assistance.
If the causes of pollution were obvious, so too
was the solution: simply reduce the local ambient con-
centrations of pollutants. The quickest and the cheap-
est way was to mix the pollutants with greater volumes
of air and water, leading to the old maxim: "the solu-
tion to pollution is dilution."
While some of the vilest pollution sources were
eventually dosed down in this "local era," pollution
problems didn't go away. Indeed, it rapidly became
apparent that environmental problems were actually
regional in nature. Ironically, this realization came in
part as a direct consequence of responses to the "dilu-
tion solution." For example, to meet local air quality

While political support for
the environment is broad,
it may not be deep. What
happens when we as
individuals have to foot
the bill for environmental



ing the worst toxics from the environment and reduc-
ing the amount of pollutants released, the combination
of continuing economic growth and the technical diffi-
culty of removing even more pollutants have conspired
to keep pollutants at levels of concern.
Take, for example, the case of cars. Over the
strenuous objections of the auto manufacturers, the
federal government imposed fuel efficiency and emis-
sion standards. While today's cars are significantly
cleaner and more efficient than cars of 10 and 20 years
ago, the vehicle miles driven in this country have
grown so fast that the total amount of polluting auto
emissions has not been reduced significant. The tech-
nical obstacles to removing the remaining pollutants
from car emissions are significant. It is a well-known
maxim of pollution control economics: trying to clean
up the last 5 percent is immensely more expensive than
cleaning up the first 95 percent.

3. We've run out of bad guys. The problem isn't
the big, bad polluter anymore. It's the millions of small
sources, which taken by themselves may be insignifi-
cant but which cumulatively account for hundreds of
tons of pollutants. The Clean Air Act Amendments of
1991 began to target some of those small businesses,
such as bakeries, dry cleaners, and auto paint shops,
that emit modest amounts of volatile organic com-
pounds. The next targets are you and me. In Los
Angeles, for example, there have been various proposals
to ban deodorants, barbecues, and lawn mowers.
Cleaning up and restoring our nation's estuaries will
require stringent controls on the thousands of non-
point sources that contribute to pollution, including
limitation on farming and development near estuaries,
which are popular recreation areas.
The costs of environmental protection are going
to escalate. In 1986 dollars, costs in the United States
for environmental compliance have increased from
about $30 billion to a projected $160 billion by year
2000. Equally important is the fact that the nature of
those costs is changing. Instead of being borne by giant
"bad guy" corporations, the costs of environmental reg-
ulation are increasingly falling on you and me, often in
the form of restrictions on what we have traditionally
considered to be personal rights, such as the "right" to
a job, the "right" to control personal private property,
or the "right" to consume resources as one chooses.
When economic times are tough, those costs are even
more politically difficult to bear.

In looking for the sources

of political gridlock, we

need look no further than

the mirror.

4. We can't see the benefits. Back in the 1970s
and 1980s, we could at least see results of our pollution
control efforts. Rivers became cleaner and fish
returned. The sight of a belching smokestack became
rare, and in most cities, the number of days exceeding
the air quality standards diminished. Wildlife endan-
gered by toxic pesticides began to return.
Now, when EPA discusses regulating risks down
at the level of avoiding one cancer death in 1 million, it
is very difficult for the public to perceive the tangible
benefit of that risk reduction. Trying to reduce the
invisible emissions from dry cleaners does not have the
same visual impact of reducing black, foul-smelling
smoke from coal-burning utilities. And in some cases,
the environmental benefits of source reductions will
not even be realized in this generation.

What are the political prospects for this third
wave? Will it present opportunities for new solutions
to environmental problems, or will it lead to more
political gridlock?
While political support for the environment is
broad, it is not clear that the support is deep. As long
as the costs of environmental protection were imposed
on "the bad guys," and the benefits seemed clear, that
support seemed strong. What is less clear is what will
happen to that support when individuals are asked to
foot the environmental bill themselves through direct
costs such as higher taxes and through indirect costs
such as restrictions on individual "rights," particularly
when the benefits seem abstract at best.
Just as one example, poll after poll shows that
Americans are concerned about global warming, but
are unwilling to pay higher gasoline taxes to encourage
fuel efficiency. The prevailing political wisdom is that
while the public supports the concept of"efficiency"
(defined as doing more, or the same, with less), the
concept of "conservation" (defined as doing less with
less) is political anathema. The human species does not
have a distinguished history of making such sacrifices.
These conflicts are already finding political
expression. As an example, in October the House voted
on a bill to create a National Biological Survey to con-
duct a scientific inventory of this country's biological
resources. The debate on this relatively noncontrover-
sial, nonregulatory bill became a hot surrogate battle
over wetlands and the Endangered Species Act. Some
members, concerned about the impact of wetlands and




Congress often makes the mistake of imple-
menting grand, comprehensive, prescriptive pro-
grams designed to achieve complex goals.... I
would like to see policy makers and scientists work
together to design incremental, adaptive programs
that can move toward policy goals along evolving
pathways.... I'm advocating a type of conscious
trial-and-error policy making that mimics the sci-
entific method. The trick-which we have yet to
master-is to test the consequences of our political
choices by creating feedback loops between adap-
tive policy decisions and the scientific research
agenda. We should expect mistakes in the policy
process, just as we do in science.
Political expediency will always play a greater
role in policy making than will analytical thinking,
scientific or otherwise.... But we can, and must,
seek ways to better integrate our growing body of
scientific knowledge and technological expertise
with our needs as human beings living in an
increasingly global society.

What Chairman Brown is saying, I believe, is
that science alone will never be sufficient to resolve our
problems. In essence, he is talking about the role of
values in creating and resolving political problems.
We all like to think of ourselves as environmen-
talists but, all too often, we mean different things by
the same term. We need to understand the fundamen-
tal values that inform our perception of ourselves as
environmentalists. One useful taxonomy is proposed
by Michael Colby in his 1990 World Bank discussion
paper, "Environmental management in development."
Colby sets out five "paradigms" of political values deal-
ing with the relationship between environment and

1. Frontier economics, characterized by eco-
nomic growth, private property, free markets, and the
unbridled exploitation of resources.

2. Environmental protection, in which the envi-
ronment is seen as a economic externality that must be
regulated by government. The principal concern is the
effects of pollution on human health and welfare.
Cost-benefit analysis is used to try to manage the
trade-offs between economic development and protect-
ing the environment.

3. Resource management takes the position that
environmental protection is best achieved by internal-

izing the costs in policy and economic decision mak-
ing. The goal is to "economize ecology" by getting the
prices right. This paradigm extends concern for humair
welfare to future generations, focusing on the more
efficient management of resources. When we talk
about sustainabilityy," this paradigm is what some have
in mind.

4. Eco-development focuses on a less anthro-
pocentric view of the world. The goal is to transform
the human enterprise to ensure the long-term viability
of nature as well as man, or to otherwise "ecologize the
economy." The economic system would be changed to
meet essential human needs, rather than "frivolous"
demands. This paradigm is what "sustainability" means
to many, and is typified by the analyses produced by
Lester Brown and the Worldwatch Institute.

5. Deep ecology, a version of sustainability that
envisions a radical reduction in human population and
economic activities in order to "harmonize" with

In the end, we must recognize that the clash
between environment and development, between sus-
tainability and freedom of consumption, is ultimately a
conflict in values. While science can and must play a
role in resolving environmental gridlock, the value-free
posture of science cannot, by itself, solve the underly-
ing problems. We cannot go into the future without an
agreement on where we want to go. Science can inform
that debate, but it cannot answer it. Those answers will
be provided ultimately in the values of the citizens who
participate in the political process.
For those of you who are committed to change,
to environmental protection, to the end of political
gridlock, I would suggest that it is not enough to be a
scientist. You must also be a human being.

Today, people may be

asked to sacrifice some

consumption, modify

some behavior, or

relinquish some "right"

in order to protect the

environment for future

generations. The human

species does not have a

distinguished history of

such sacrifices.