- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2003

Two reports on the environment were released last week, each with a different tale. The Environmental Protection Agency released its first of a kind analysis of the state of the environment, and the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) put out its annual presidential scorecard. The EPA report was released on the eve of the departure of its administrator, Christine Todd Whitman, and the LCV document was printed just prior to its environmental forum for Democratic presidential hopefuls.

According to the EPA’s assessment, the environment is in better shape now than it has been in decades — 94 percent of Americans drink relatively unpolluted water, releases of toxic chemicals have fallen by nearly 50 percent since 1988 and air pollution has fallen by 25 percent over the last three decades. Life expectancy is increasing. The authors of the EPA report rightly recognized that the links between pollutants and damage to human health have not been fully fleshed out, either for the current climate or the one that might come.

Yet, while climate models can be used to predict anything from an upcoming “Themageddon,” (the name of the recently released book by Greenpeace co-founder Robert Hunter) to an upcoming ice age, their predictive value is contingent on the quality of the data put into them. It is not easy to measure, much less make predictions about, the many interacting factors that contribute to climate change. Nor is it easy to determine the exact level of exposure to a given chemical that could cause a cancer in a particular person.

It is both sound science and smart governance to admit that the information currently available is simply not accurate enough to set policy by. No amount of hand-wringing can make it otherwise.

Unfortunately, the LCV report read more like a fund-raising letter than a serious policy prescription. That might have had something to do with the LCV’s recent hiring of long-time Democratic activist Mark Longabaugh as a political strategist. The report claimed that the administration has launched a “starve-and-strangle” approach to environmental programs, using “deceptive rhetoric, arcane procedural methods and funding cuts to carry out an anti-environment, pro-corporate agenda.” While it mentioned the administration’s decision to reduce the emissions of off-road diesel engines and noted its decision to raise fuel efficiency standards, the LCV report still gave the administration an “F.”

Yet, had it focused on finding solutions instead of simply attacking Mr. Bush, the LCV report could have supplemented the administration’s attempts to protect the environment — reminding it of areas it had overlooked or even recommending cleaner, greener solutions than those supported by the White House. After all, reasonable people can disagree with administration’s policies and yet still support its hope of leaving the environment cleaner than when it came to Washington. Yet, stewardship in that area requires that partnerships be formed between all environmental stakeholders — public citizens, environmental groups and industry representatives.

Taken together, the EPA and LCV reports show that the environment is improving, and will continue to improve so long as public citizens take such stewardship seriously. However, political environmentalists might have to get out of the way before pragmatic solutions can be fully realized.

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