The environmental movement that began in the 1960s started with public outcry to the federal government for action. Having clean air, clean water, protection of forests and animal life was nearly a ubiquitous desire of Americans. At the time, strategy to address these environmental ills seemed straightforward. Problems were viewed as inherently similar, conducive to centralized decisionmaking and boilerplate answers.
Now, thirty years later, it has become clear that environmental problems are complex and unique, requiring a flexible, results-oriented approach. As our knowledge of environmental science has blossomed, so has the willingness of a new cadre of participants to help find solutions. Nonprofit organizations, businesses, individual citizens, and local governments are playing a crucial role in providing environmental enhancements. Where once environmental policy inherently mistrusted markets and punishment was pursued more vigorously than progress, today this is changing. Private innovation is the wellspring source of progress. We have learned that while environmental enforcement is indeed important, no process should overshadow the ultimate goal of progress toward a clean environment. This is the new environmentalism.
Four Basic Principles
More and more we are facing localized environmental problems which are much more amenable to solutions for specific sites. We recognize that today, most states have demonstrated the capacity to implement environmental laws, even some more stringent than federal environmental law. The states should be encouraged by the federal government to continue their innovation in this area, building upon local knowledge, conditions, and needs.
Flexibility and Progress
The United States has some of the best technologies in the world to accomplish its environmental goals. Our states, localities, and businesses need to be freed up to use these technologies and ideas to continue improving our environment. They should be held accountable for achieving environmental results, not simply the extent to which they follow rules and regulations. Most important, opportunities for environmental improvements should be identified by states and localities, not just by the federal government.
Environmental progress, over the long term, requires self-propelled environmental protection by businesses, farmers, and individual private citizens. Environmental entrepreneurship can't occur unless people have the incentives and ability to act as private stewards of the environment. While punishment is needed for those who callously flout environmental law, a balance should be struck between punishment and incentives that encourage environmental innovation.
Honesty, Integrity and balanced environmental policy is a result of good science. As more and more scientific data on environmental ills becomes available, the emphasis is placed on how we use this information. Science is too important to politicize or to ignore. The environment is made up of many competing risks. With that in mind, environmental policy should take all of these goals into consideration, offering holistic rather than piecemeal answers.
The Future Starts Now
Thirty years ago, the public called upon the federal government to address environmental ills. Now, the government needs to tap into the wellspring of creativity of the public to solve environmental problems. This call for collaboration, innovation and flexibility holds the key to a cleaner, brighter and healthier future.