Making Collaboration a Matter of Course: A New Approach to Environmental Policy Making
Speech by Eileen Claussen, President
Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Society of Environmental Professionals Meeting
June 25, 2001
Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here with a group of environmental professionals from around the country. And I must say I am glad you have all gathered here in Washington. Judging from what's been going on over the last several months—and, indeed, over the last several years—this town could certainly use a few more environmental professionals.
Allow me to begin my remarks with a little bit of equal-opportunity criticism of the two political parties' approaches to these issues. In the White House, it seems we have an administration that believes environmental policy-making consists entirely of deciding which of the environmental policies of the previous administration to keep in place, and which to unceremoniously send away to the local landfill. And, among the Democrats on Capitol Hill, the idea seems to be to charge an enormously high political "tipping fee" for the dumping of established policies, regardless of their merit.
I suppose you could sum up the Bush administration's approach to environmental policy by using the EPA's three R's for managing solid waste: reduce, reuse and recycle. As in, reduce environmental regulation while reusing and recycling proposals from the past. The Democrats, meanwhile, have their own three-R strategy for dealing with the environment and other issues: recruit recalcitrant Republicans.
Seriously, all of you are to be commended for your commitment to the environment and for advocating on behalf of sound and responsible environmental policies. In my remarks today, I would like to talk a little bit about how sound and responsible policies can and should be crafted in a world that is very different from the one that greeted the heyday of U.S. environmental policy making in the 1970s. And I want to tell you a little bit about how two organizations I am affiliated with—the Pew Oceans Commission and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change—are trying to adopt a new, cross-sector approach to getting things done.
But first a little history. My own career as an environmental professional began in the 1970s, when I joined the staff of the Environmental Protection Agency. I worked at EPA for more than 20 years and dealt with issues from hazardous waste and energy efficiency to acid rain and the depletion of the ozone layer. And let me assure you that this was a real education for someone whose academic degrees are in English literature.
From EPA I moved onto the National Security Council and then the Department of State, where I was responsible for developing and implementing policy on such international issues as climate change, chemicals, fisheries and wildlife conservation, and more. I left the Clinton Administration in mid-1997, created the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in 1998 and, in 2000, helped launch the Pew Oceans Commission.
The reason I offer you this quick resume is not because I am looking for a job, although I can provide references if you would like. Rather, I simply want to make the point that I have been in the environmental policy arena very literally since the first Earth Day. And, in that time, I have had the opportunity to gain an up-close-and-personal view of the U.S. government's role in these issues. It all began when federal policy makers carved out a very assertive and, in many respects, unilateralist role for Washington in the protection of our natural environment.
This role was spelled out very clearly in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. This is the law in which Congress boldly declared its intent to "create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony," and to "assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, esthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings." (Sort of the chicken in every pot approach to environmental policy.)
During the 1970s, our national policymakers took this vision of strong government action on the environment and made it real. NEPA and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency were just the start of it. There was the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, and much more.
Former New York Times reporter Philip Shabecoff, in his recent book about American environmentalism, Earth Rising, had this to say about environmental policy making in the 1970s:
"In its totality, the explosion of congressional activism that produced these landmark environmental statutes must be considered one of the great legislative achievements in the nation's history."
And, as we all know, it was an explosion of activism that produced very real results—two-thirds of the nation's waters now safe for fishing and swimming, up from one-third in 1970; dramatic improvements in air quality due to reductions in carbon monoxide, lead, ozone, particulates and other pollutants.
In spite of these successes, however, government began to see its role a little differently as the years went by. Rather than requiring the best available control technologies and adopting a prescriptive approach to environmental protection, we began to see a still-strong government experimenting with the notion of setting objectives and then allowing industry and the market to figure out how best to meet them.
A perfect example of this performance-based approach was the Acid Rain Program created under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. These provisions require significant reductions in emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from electric utilities, but the law set out to accomplish this objective in a new way.
Rather than saying here's what the utilities have to do, the implementing regulations established a cap on national emissions while allocating pollution allowances to individual sources for trading. The results are now well known: in the first year of compliance in 1995, U.S. SO2 emissions dropped by a very impressive 3 million tons. And there have been even greater improvements in the years since, along with sharp declines in acid deposition. Perhaps most importantly, the costs of the new requirements have been far lower than anticipated. The acid rain cost projections were estimated at over $900 per ton. They are now selling for less than $150.
A flexible, market-based approach to reducing emissions was not the only innovation we tried under the Acid Rain Program. To successfully implement the program, EPA followed the guidelines of the Federal Advisory Committee Act and established an Acid Rain Advisory Committee. This group included 44 individuals representing a wide range of organizations and interests, from large and small utilities to environmental organizations and state air agencies.
Bear in mind that this was not a window-dressing committee. It actually did a lot of good, hard work. Over a six-month period, this group (and I chaired it) became actively involved in formulating solutions to problems and offering critiques of various regulatory options. Not only did this ensure that potential problems were identified early on, but it also helped smooth the way for implementation of the new rules. The reason: there was a cadre of individuals who already were very familiar with the program and the thinking behind it, and who were committed to making it work.
So over the years our government has moved from prescribing what industry should do, to establishing performance standards for industry to meet, to beginning to involve stakeholders directly in the formulation of new policies and regulations. When you dig beneath the surface, however, the success of the Acid Rain Advisory Committee is the exception to the rule. All too often, our government's outreach to industry and other sectors is doomed from the start because these partnerships and collaborations often lack a clear sense of mission and goals. They also often lack a clear definition of roles and responsibilities. Adding to the problem, government entities are notoriously reluctant to relinquish control of the policy process to others. And this, I believe, must change.
My point is that environmental threats such as rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the deteriorating health of our oceans, and the wasteful destruction of natural resources will pose serious and mounting problems for both the United States and the world in the decades ahead. And we will not be able to deal effectively with these problems without a better system of environmental governance—governance that includes an active and appropriate role not just for government but for business, nongovernmental organizations, scientists, citizens and others.
The world is very different today than it was in the 1970s—this despite the recent return of such 70s icons as Charlie's Angels, Fleetwood Mac, bell-bottoms and the entire administration of President Gerald R. Ford. It is even a different world today than it was in the early 1990s, at least with respect to the power and capacity of government to unilaterally shape the nation's environmental policies.
So what has changed? The answer is a number of things, starting with the government itself. Between 1968 and 2000, the United States had a divided government for all but six years—and, as of last month, it was divided yet again. While in the 1970s you saw a unique consensus emerge among Republicans and Democrats alike around the importance of strong action on the environment, today the issue is much more partisan in nature—and the result is a lack of sustained leadership. Like many other issues in today's highly competitive political arena, the environment is used far too often as a way to score political points—and not often enough as a way to bring Americans together behind an agenda for action.
At the same time that environmental issues have become more polarized and politicized, we also have seen a devolution of authority away from the federal government and towards the states and localities. This happened in part because the environmental laws enacted in the 1970s were designed to build capacity at the state level. And the fact is, they did precisely that. Devolution has not necessarily meant less environmental protection. But it has meant that the states are increasingly interested in adapting national objectives to individual state circumstances. And the result is a patchwork of policies, some of them stronger than others and all of them serving as a collective reminder that Washington is no longer the policy making force it once was on the environment.
Among the other factors that have contributed to Washington's declining capacity to make and enforce strong environmental policy are budgetary pressures that are sure to persist in the wake of the tax cut approved by Congress in May. And then there is the state of environmental science. Recent years have seen the emergence of a sizeable body of scientific consensus supporting the need for action to address most of the environmental problems we face. Nevertheless, as time has gone on, our ability to understand the uncertainties in the science has also improved.
And this has meant a tendency in the political arena to focus on uncertainties rather than certainties—making it difficult for policy makers to take strong or effective action on these issues. The unfortunate result is that science—which is the necessary underpinning for action—too often is employed in the cause of those who wish to take no action at all.
At the same time that we have seen our government become weaker and more inclined to inaction on the environment, we have seen nongovernmental organizations become ever-stronger. The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, to cite one example, was largely the product of NGOs throughout the world coming together around a common concern and persuading world governments to take action. In the environmental arena, we have seen nongovernmental organizations enter the mainstream of society. Twenty or thirty years ago, these groups essentially operated on the fringe of politics and governance, advocating for sound environmental laws and suing the government to make sure that the laws were implemented. Today, however, these groups have developed into sophisticated and, dare I say it, "corporate" organizations that act not only as advocates but as lawyers, communicators, educators, and policy analysts.
These changes in the not-for-profit sector have been accompanied—perhaps not coincidentally—by a growing sensitivity to environmental concerns in the private sector. Many businesses in the United States and throughout the world no longer view environmental concerns as a threat to their very existence. Rather, progressive business leaders (and not all business leaders are progressive) accept that something must be done to address these concerns, and they understand that the smartest approach for industry is to help shape solutions instead of having solutions imposed by others.
Both independently and in response to pressure from government, NGOs and the communities where they operate, many companies have now embedded social and environmental ethics into their management structures. This makes the blatant disregard of the environment far more difficult, and it opens the door to a more constructive role for the private sector in identifying and solving environmental problems.
So there you have it. Our government is weaker, NGOs are stronger, and industry is more attuned to the environmental consequences of its actions. Looking at these trends, and coupling them with the ease of modern communications and the growth of the internet, you start to see the outlines of a new approach to environmental policy making.
Some have argued for greater self—policing by the private sector-based on the belief that it is in industry's best interests to deal aggressively and responsibly with these issues. But I am talking about something different. I am talking about a governance model that requires a heightened level of interaction and cooperation among government, NGOs, industry and others—an approach that draws on everybody's strengths, interests and expertise to forge solutions that everybody can support.
Can this approach work to achieve progress on other issues from cleaning up our air and water to reducing the risks of climate change and protecting the health of the oceans? My answer is yes. At the Pew Oceans Commission, we have sought to assemble government, fishing industry and NGO representatives—together with scientists, economists and others—to recommend a series of policy measures designed to restore and sustain the health of the marine environment. This is a bipartisan, multi-sector group that includes members from all of the coastal regions of the nation, as well as federal, state and local governmental perspectives.
And we are not stopping there in our efforts to reflect a truly national, cross-sector consensus on these issues. In a continuing set of workshops and other convenings throughout the country, we are inviting the public to share its concerns about ocean issues. And we are hearing from local commercial fishers, business people from tourism and agriculture, and regional officials and scientists about ways to improve ocean management and conservation.
The result of all this will be a set of policy recommendations that we will present to Congress in 2002. Our intention is for these recommendations to be substantive, bold and visionary rather than a watered-down list appealing to the lowest common denominator. And we believe that by working through these issues together, with all of the stakeholders at the table, we will make a real and substantive contribution while raising the profile of ocean issues among the American public.
At the same time that the Pew Oceans Commission is applying a new governance model to the making of ocean policy, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change is reaching out in different and more targeted ways. We now have 33 major companies that are part of the Pew Center's Business Environmental Leadership Council. This is a group of industry leaders who have come together based on the belief that we know enough about the science of climate change to begin taking concrete steps now to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. And that is precisely what these companies are doing — they are reducing their emissions, some very substantially, and they are playing a constructive role in the domestic and international policy debates on this issue.
In addition to working with our Business Environmental Leadership Council, the Pew Center is collaborating with top scientists and other experts to produce authoritative analyses of the environmental impacts of climate change, as well as the economics and the public policy issues involved. And, we are working with government representatives and other NGOs, both here in the United States and throughout the world, in an effort both to move the dialogue on this issue forward and to forge innovative policy solutions.
The more I work at both of these efforts—the Pew Oceans Commission and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change—the more I am convinced that very little can be accomplished today in the environmental policy arena without the active participation and support of businesses, NGOs, scientists and others. And one of the principal reasons for this is the sheer size and complexity of the environmental agenda today.
Think about it. Included among the issues that demand the attention of government, industry, NGOs and others is a wide range of topics that touch on virtually every aspect of our relationship with the natural environment. On a global scale, we're seeing problems and potential crises involving the atmosphere, oceans and biodiversity. And, at the national and regional levels, the issues include everything from air and water pollution to water and land use issues, toxics, the destruction of forests, and more.
To see how the prevailing model of environmental governance is not delivering the results we need, one has only to take a cursory look at where things stand today on the two issues that are currently the focus of my work.
First there is the issue of climate change. Most of the world's best scientists now agree that the global climate is changing in important and alarming ways, and that these changes have serious consequences for the environment and human life. But we have yet to show that sustainable international and national regimes for mitigating climate change can get off the ground.
With respect to the actions of the current Administration, allow me to state very clearly that it does no good to flat-out reject one approach to this issue—and, equally important, an approach that reflects years of hard work and consensus building among the world's governments—before considering what a better approach might be. That said, our inability to develop a responsible and thoughtful national policy on the issue of climate change is a problem that dates to well before the current President. While the Clinton administration agreed to a tough emissions reduction target in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, it never put forward anything approaching the kind of domestic strategy that would be required to meet it.
And then there are the oceans. Overfished and polluted, our seas are in trouble. Approximately 70 percent of commercially important fish stocks are fully or over-exploited. And every year, 27 million tons of fish, marine mammals and birds are caught unintentionally and thrown back dead or dying into the sea. We have several pieces of national legislation addressing these issues, and a handful of institutions and treaties are in place at both the regional and global levels. But none of these efforts has yet been able to respond effectively to the problems of unsustainable fishing practices, pollution, and other threats to ocean ecosystems and marine life.
So the bottom line is this: what we have done until now is not working to address the environmental problems of today. Despite high-profile events such as the 1992 Earth Summit, and despite such groundbreaking achievements as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and the Montreal Protocol, our environment is still very much at risk. And what needs to happen now is for all of us to come together—governments, businesses, NGOs and others—and to form new collaborations, new models of environmental governance.
What are the ingredients that will make these collaborations successful? Let me list a few. First, we need a vision of where we are going and where we must go. Second, all the major stakeholders have to believe that the problem is real and needs to be addressed. Third, those who do good voluntarily shouldn't be penalized if doing good becomes mandatory down the line. Fourth, all the players have to be willing to take risks. Fifth, business has to put what it knows on the table, since the private sector generally has the most useful information. And, last but not least, NGOs have to buck the heat and say that compromise is acceptable.
In closing, I would like to tell you all a joke I recently heard. A Little League baseball game is under way, and one of the coaches pulls one of his young players aside to ask a question.
"Do you understand what cooperation is? What a team is?" the coach asks.
The little girl nods in the affirmative.
The coach then asks another question: "Do you understand that what matters is whether we win together as a team?"
The little girl nods yes.
"Do you understand," the coach continues, "that when a strike is called, or you're out at first, you don't argue or curse or attack the umpire. Do you understand all that?"
Again the little girls nods yes.
"Good," says the coach. "Now go over there and explain it to your mother."
Just like that little girl and her mother, all of us in the environmental arena need to understand anew what cooperation means and what it means to work together as a team. There is no other way, I believe, to achieve true progress in meeting the many environmental challenges we face today.
Thank you very much.