Round Two - September 15, 2000
If there is a consensus among the round one responses, this is it: the environment is both a domestic issue and a global issue, and the next Administration must lead us toward a new way of thinking about environmental problems -- and away from outdated and top-heavy regulatory structures that have outlived their usefulness. In many cases these structures have reached the limits of the environmental protections they can provide in the domestic arena. Certainly, they are not suited to global problems, where the primary driving force is the rapidly changing worldwide marketplace.
I agree with Eileen Claussen when she says the environmental progress we've achieved to date "occurred with the backing of most citizens, and mostly in areas where gross pollution could be seen and felt." The remaining problems, she asserts, are both more global and harder to grasp -- making it difficult for politicians to lead on issues where the costs are immediate but the benefits not immediately apparent. I do not believe that this difficulty is insurmountable, however.
The United States' failure to lead is a failure of vision and action -- and a failure that has marked the Clinton-Gore Administration. It is a striking failure, given Al Gore's self-proclaimed role as an environmental prophet. Rather than leading us into a new era, this Administration has chosen to politicize the environment, has focused on old-fashioned, big-government strategies that do not balance environmental needs with economic common sense, and has refused to embrace flexible, market-based approaches to environmental problems, despite the resounding success of such approaches at the state and local levels. Al Gore's rhetorical bombast of "an environmental Marshall Plan" rings hollow after eight unproductive years.
I believe Governor George W. Bush can fill this leadership void, because he is willing to reach across political boundaries for environmental solutions (his support of Texas's mandatory emissions reductions for fossil-fuel power plants is a good example) and his focus is on real results, not government process, micromanagement, and control. Governor Bush recognizes that the U.S. international focus should be leadership in (1) research, (2) development and dissemination of new technology, and (3) seeking and fostering cooperation. Governor Bush emphasizes flexible, market-based ideas to address both domestic and global environmental issues, including emissions trading and energy efficiency. He believes environmental issues are part of our vital national interests, but should not be considered in isolation. "We will link debt reduction and the conservation of tropical forests," Governor Bush said in an important policy address on the Americas last month. These "debt-for-nature" exchanges relieve some of the economic pressure that fuels deforestation and they provide funds for conservation in developing countries. This is a balancing of goals based in reality and results, not rhetoric -- and an opportunity the Clinton-Gore Administration has missed.
The Kyoto protocol offers a stark example of the U.S. failure to lead on the environment, and it is a failure with Al Gore's personal stamp on it. We did not drive the agenda in those talks, which sought to focus some of the world's best scientific minds on the potential problems associated with greenhouse gases. Nor did we bring to the table a menu of strong, economically sound incentives for developed and developing countries to reduce conventional pollutants and greenhouse gases now. As a result, we got a treaty that enjoys virtually no support in the U.S. Senate, has not been ratified by any major industrial nation, and is an arbitrary collection of rates and dates that, even if implemented, would not begin to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
Like Gregg Easterbrook, I am essentially optimistic about the long-term prospects for domestic and global environmental success. But I, too, remain concerned about how we will get there. To be effective, the next President will have to be fully cognizant of revolutionary changes in the way the world conducts its business and will need to tailor our approaches accordingly. In much of the world the governing authority has begun to shift to local governments and private institutions. Trade, investment, information, and even people flow across international borders largely outside of government control. Domestically, deregulation and the shift of responsibilities from federal to state and local governments are changing the relationship among levels of government and between government and the private sector. The old way of government doing things by itself simply will not get us to where we need to be.
Gregg Easterbrook correctly observes that "[t]he technology and regulatory standards now exist to make it possible to have economic growth and improving environmental conditions simultaneously." Gregg also keenly perceives that, while this coexistence is possible in the long-term, in the near-term a balancing of economic and environmental interests will be required for progress to be made on either front. In this regard, I fully subscribe to Easterbrook's call for better data on environmental problems and greater public education on the possible solutions. Having better environmental information will help increase public understanding of environmental issues both domestic and international, identify emerging problems, empower people to identify and implement solutions, and prevent us from falling into crisis-of-the-day reactive mode.
The bottom line is this: whatever action is taken, the United States must lead; the actions must be fair to all participants; and the critical concerns of the United States must be protected. None of this can be accomplished by traditional command and control. These goals can be accomplished only by negotiation, a willingness to pursue new policies, and a focus on achieving real environmental results. This is the approach Governor Bush would champion, and it is long overdue.
Round Three: Concluding Remarks -- September 20, 2000
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