Environmental Policy Versus The Economy Essay, Research Paper
Environmental policy versus the economy
It is in the ring set up by greedy corporations and enviro tree huggers where the top card is the economy versus the environment. To help gain support, the economy yells, ?The Green groups may decry economic growth, but it is growth itself that makes environmental protection possible and popular?pollution is as old as human activity, but only recently have we been rich enough to worry about it?.10 On the other side, we have ?Putting pollution controls in place-or even preventing pollution in the first place-sometimes saves businesses money?.1 ?It?s not a question of jobs versus the environment. There will be no jobs left on a dead, scorched Earth?.2 While the government tries to satisfy both sides, neither the environment nor the economy seems to really be winning.
Trying To Change
In June of 1992, most world countries and a vast array of private organizations gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. This ?Rio Conference? represented a major international effort to address the common environmental term: sustainability. Sustainability was understood as being able to maintain a continuing progress that does no further damage to the ecosystem.
At the Rio Conference, two main international agreements were made: First, a convention to cut down emissions that creates global warming. President Bush agreed to sign this after prudent objections. Second, a convention to protect biodiversity, President Bush refused to sign this, making the United States the only major state not to accept the biodiversity treaty.5 Later on, President Clinton signed the treaty and reversed the United States position.8
The convention to protect biodiversity was a perfect example of how the developed countries resisted strong language in the treaties. This was done because with an already powerful economy, the more flexible terms would better ensure no restrictions that would really effect their economy. This clarifies how much power the business industry has over politics. While the president was at the summit to help sustain the environment, he never let the pressures of an abundant economy slip his mind. His argument for the United States concerning biodiversity was that he objected to the protection of endangered animal and plant species because it did not provide a patent protection for U.S. biotechnology firms.4 President Bush virtually stood alone when he had objections with the treaty for protection against global warming. He agreed to sign only after ?references to binding targets and timetables were dropped in favor of a more general pledge to reduce the emissions of gases that cause global warming?.8 Both the public and world leaders alike criticized the President for letting reelection issues to dominate policy.
What the Rio Conference did do for the United States is it helped educate people on some lesser-known issues and made the environment popular again. The expanded and heightened public attention placed a greater emphasis for environmental concerns in America?s foreign aid program. With this came arguments that giving more effective environmental aid does not necessarily mean giving more money.3 Some say that large aid flows do not solve the problem, but perhaps make it worse. Their controversial suggestion is less but better aid.
United State?s progress in helping other nation?s environmental issues has been very sluggish. Even after several years have passed since the Rio Conference, there still has been little done by the wealthier nations to assist poorer countries in developing environmental safeguards. Some reasons for there being such slow progress in environmental foreign aid issues is that foreign aid itself has been a common target for cutting federal spending.3 Still others want to exclude environmental aid arguing that ?in addition to furthering U.S. security interests, foreign aid should be restricted to stimulating private trade and investment?.9
Closer to Home
Another source of controversy is the Bush administration?s 1990 Clean Air Act amendment. The amendment was designed to halt the spread of acid rain that threatened the survival of lakes, rivers, and forests. This meant that utilities would be granted transferable allowances to emit sulfur dioxide in proportion to their current emissions level.10 Then, all facilities that still polluted more than its allocated amount would have to buy emission allowances from someone who was polluting under their requirements. The theory was that the companies that were able to reduce emissions for less than their credits were worth could then sell them at a profit. Those companies that continued to fail to stay under emissions requirements would have to keep buying credits at a steadily increasing price. Now, companies essentially had the ability to buy and sell the ?right? to pollute.10
One main problem with this program from the beginning was that the amendment included many rules for extensions and substitutions. One writer against this amendment states that ?With reduced emissions now a marketable commodity, the range of possible abuses may grow considerably, as utilities will have a direct financial incentive to manipulate reporting of their emissions to improve their position in the pollution credits market?.10 The supporters argue that as pollution standards will be increased over time, the credits will become more valuable and therefore owners could yield large profits all while fighting pollution. In reality, after the Environmental Protection Agency began selling pollution credits in 1993, it became obvious that next to nothing was actually following their original projections. The values of the credits have actually diminished and it has continuously become more and more attractive to purchase the credits instead of investing in pollution control. What has happened is when the pollution credits have been traded between two companies, often the results have countered the program?s stated intentions. Some companies have chosen to exceed the mandated levels by purchasing credits instead of implementing expensive controls. While this would in turn save money, the actual overall level of pollution would remain the same as if both companies had complied equally. Because of this, many have argued that market forces will assume that the most cost-effective means of reducing acid rain will be implemented first, saving the economy billions of dollars in ?excess? pollution control costs. The Illinois Power Company that canceled the construction of a 350 million-dollar scrubber system in the city of Decatur is quoted as saying, ?Our compliance plan is based almost totally on purchase of credits?. They were one of the first companies to bid for additional credits. Here, the ?rules? seem to have turned into an encouraged voluntary compliance.
Another issue is that the market based environmental policies system can very easily be compromised by large company?s strategic behavior. Emissions trading have become a government permitted way that allows large corporate interests to remain fairly free of ecological obstacles in their pro-economic pursuit of profit.
Shortly after the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments passed, the Environmental Defense Fund not only gave the trading of emissions allowances their full support, but explained that is was simply part of a world scale plan. With additional support of the plan from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in 1992, international emissions trading is looking quite probable. An international market in ?pollution rights? could cause further problems like widening existing inequalities among nations. The author of an anti-free market environmentalism article writes; ?Expanded to an international scale, the potential for unaccountable manipulation of industrial policy by a few corporations would easily compound the disruptions already caused by often reckless international traders in stocks, bonds, and currencies?.10 This case clearly shows how domestic politics can drastically manipulate international policy.
A Long History
President Bush?s ?loopholes? in the 1990 Clean Air Act were by no means the beginning of weakened laws to help further business. After President Carter introduced tougher toxic dumping regulations for corporations, there was a huge increase in illegal ?midnight dumpings?. Soon, exporting toxic waste to the Third World became a sudden growth industry. While it is true that the Carter administration vetoed these kinds of exports for toxic garbage, the ban was soon withdrawn by the Reagan administration. Reagan was very eager to please industry, which crippled the environmental movement. As viewed by most conservationists, the Reagan administration dealt with matters of the environment with both regressive and corrupt means. This was mostly done by flooding the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior with both industrial lobbyists and lawyers whose main concern seemed to be to dismantle environmental legislation or to make it ineffective. One positive outlook for the future includes the implementation of a permanent cap of 8.95 million tons of emission allowances in the year 2000. This will be known as phase II of the free-market of tradable pollution permits.
One increasingly critical piece of US foreign policy has been the strain of US relations with our neighbor, Canada. Canada has eastern provinces that sit downwind of many of the biggest sources of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the United States. Canada is a major recipient of transboundary pollution from the United States? problems, which include a possible threat of emissions to British Columbia from the Northwestern United States, and salmon deaths in Nova Scotia. The Ontario environment ministry reported in 1980 that 140 acidified lakes in the province were devoid of fish, and the 48,500 of Ontario?s lakes would not be capable of tolerating the continuous acid inputs for any extended period. In addition, a study done in 1983 that used information gathered over the period of 1974 through 1978, implied that sulfur emissions had caused bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses among the people of southern Ontario. It also may have accounted for about 40 hospital admissions per day during summer. A study was done on maple trees in Quebec, which has faced the most threat of acid pollution in Canada. For centuries, maple sugar production has been a major economic activity in Quebec. Recently, there has been a widespread maple tree dieback, which has caused sugar-producing companies to go out of business. This province alone supplies 75 percent of the world?s maple syrup, so this makes terrible news for Canada. The research team?s results from the study linked the deaths of the maple trees to acid pollution.
The federal government in the United States has been notoriously slow to respond to transboundary pollution. This is despite the worsening air pollution and increasing evidence of the related threats to the public?s health. Congress has always been reluctant to set mandatory national air quality standards and even slower to acknowledge the fact that air pollution problems transcend the nation?s boundaries. It took about 20 years for the United States to vocalize some responsibility for Canada. This was done in the early 1980?s when a report prepared by the White House scientific panel pushed for immediate action to curb the sulfur emissions. No policy changes were to come from this, unfortunately. The challenges of disentangling air pollution policy from a complex web of competing political and economic tensions were listed by McCormick as follows:
1: the disparity between the long-term view of science and the short-term view of elected officials;
2: the confusion created by the involvement in environmental policy decisions of a wide variety of institutions, including several White House offices, several cabinet-level federal government departments, the Environmental Protection Agency, committees in both houses of Congress, and the governments of individual states;
3: the usually conflicting priorities of industry and the environmental lobby;
4: the ongoing debate in the United States about the relative merits of small government and big government, and about the appropriate extent of federal government regulation;
5: disagreements concerning the relative merits of forcing technological change on industry, or of leaving such changes to the free market;
6: disagreement over whether to focus on stationary sources of pollution or mobile sources;
7: ongoing concerns about the implications of clean air legislation for jobs and US competitiveness in the global economy.6
Then there were the most fundamental problems. Federalism encouraged states to place the local and regional interests above national and international interests. This complication is then widened by the members of Congress who often tend to be more concerned with keeping their local voters happy than with looking over the general national interests. Yet another example of national interests being outweighed is under the influence of political action committees. These are the committees that send the election funds to the candidates that are running for office. More than 150 of the committees were found to have interests in the outcome of the clean air legislation representing oil, natural gas, automobile, coal, steel, and chemical industries.7 The House members that were most involved with the clean air policy that opposed the strengthening of the legislation were found to regularly receive more in contributions from the industries than those in favor. One last issue effecting the US policymaking included environmental priorities. Since controlling both toxic and nuclear wastes was viewed as an aspect of health-policy, it was placed above acid rain which was seen mostly as a threat to the ecosystem.6
One Step Closer
The United States has shown environmental leadership through means such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. For President Bush to get the fast track authority in negotiations for NAFTA, he entered into agreements with environmental groups among others in order to receive the much-needed support. One issue with international trade is that it both aggravates the damage to the world?s environment and it offers opportunities to heal it. Increased trade would mean increased transportation, this uses more energy. Also, more trade means more production internationally, which means more pollution. However, trade also means more jobs that can provide developing countries with capital and money above a minimum subsistence income.1 This in turn can be used to reduce environment hazards. Another plus is trade sanctions. A NAFTA side agreement included that failure to enforce domestic environmental laws would violate the trade agreement. Still, there remained some gaps on the ecological side, which led some environmental groups to oppose NAFTA. One question was about the relationship between freer trade and environmental quality. Would the United States and Canadian companies relocate to Mexico to exploit its weaker environmental regulations? Would that actually lead to an overall reduction in environmental quality in North America? To try to avoid this, the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation created a Commission on Environmental Cooperation in order to ensure that environmental regulations in the three countries were not weakened. And in addition, their goal was to promote cooperation and consultation among the three nations.6
In conclusion, the environments biggest opposition is the economy. Because of needing votes for elections, politicians generally go for the short-term benefits that can be found economically and not ecologically. Slowly, we are showing improvement in better and better environmental protection acts, but we still have a long way to go even to reach sustainability. What we as ecologically sound voters need to do is to look at political candidate?s past and see if they look as though they have a pro-environment disposition.