John P. Holdren’s “Searching for a National Energy Policy” (Issues, Spring 2001) is the sort of sound assessment of national energy options that should be reviewed and digested by federal officials as they work to resolve the current energy crisis and plan to move us to a more balanced strategy for future energy use. Holdren provides a clear argument that the basis of a sound energy policy lies in encouraging supply diversity through R&D and the opening of energy markets to non-fossil fuel alternatives. He also adds his voice to the chorus of economic, technical, and environmental experts who have argued that a national energy policy based on exploring for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) will, in fact, do nothing to meet our national energy needs. The ANWR gambit is, more accurately, no more than a plan to enrich a set of oil and gas industry executives at the expense of improving the energy security of the country as a whole.
Instead of seriously considering the facts and the analysis that Holdren and other energy experts are reporting, it unfortunately appears that the Bush-Cheney administration is not listening and is instead involved in an energy version of “voodoo economics.” Since taking office, the administration has undermined a number of sound pieces of existing energy policy, including federal support for energy efficiency and demand-side management. Wind energy systems that are now directly cost-competitive with many currently installed fossil fuel technologies, as well as a range of renewable energy options such as biomass and solar that can be moved to full economic competition through the consistent application of research, development, and dissemination policies, have been ignored or discouraged.
The federal task force convened to develop a national energy plan could have been an opportunity to take a balanced look at the full range of energy technologies and the role that policies can have in expanding our energy options. Instead, much of the work of the task force has been directed at meeting with only a narrow range of energy experts, largely from companies with preexisting ties to the administration.
It is particularly sad and ironic that now that the combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy can finally play a major role in meeting our energy needs, they are not being afforded the opportunity to compete on a level economic basis with the fossil fuel industry.
Should the administration want to explore the full range of technical and economic opportunities that now exist to diversify the U.S. energy supply, a number of important first steps could be taken. I detailed these in a letter sent to Vice President Cheney (available at . Steady federal R&D funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies has produced a series of important innovations. The budget for energy efficiency and renewable energy should be increased significantly and then sustained. Second, tax credits for companies developing and using renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies would encourage innovation through a market mechanism. Third, the government could institute improved efficiency standards for residential and commercial buildings, including the use of real-time pricing for electricity. Fourth, the government should implement an aggressive federal renewable portfolio standard to help build cost-competitive renewable energy markets. Fifth, energy efficiency in the vehicle fleet could be dramatically improved–again through market mechanisms–if federal standards for vehicle efficiency were raised. By taking these steps, the United States has an opportunity to provide critically needed global environmental leadership. The economic benefits that come with this level of leadership and innovation would undoubtedly far outweigh the costs.
There is relatively little on which–either in substance or emphasis–the administration’s energy policy plan or John P. Holdren’s article agree. The administration (some obligatory bows to a balanced perspective aside) argues forcibly for expanded energy supply. Holdren’s position, although perhaps too sanguine about the potential magnitude of renewables and conservation, seems to me to offer a somewhat more judicious review of problems and possible solutions. There are, however, several issues that, to my dismay, both the administration and Holdren embrace misguidedly. For example, both express alarm over the degree of U.S. dependence on foreign oil without (a) informing us what represents a “safe” level of imports, (b) indicating what would be an acceptable price to pay for lowering imports, and (c) recognizing the extent to which imported oil has, more often than not, benefited rather than hurt U.S. consumers.
But more broadly than any specific example, there is a sense in both the administration’s and Holdren’s views that what underscores the need to deal with long-term energy dilemmas, some of which indisputably require attention, is the current situation, dramatized for most people by California’s electricity debacle, along with steep price increases for natural gas and gasoline. With the events of 200001 as its springboard, the administration invokes the specter of chronic energy shortages in the years ahead. Holdren’s article similarly tells us that, in contrast to the rather easygoing developments of the past 15 years, much has now changed. Metaphorically, that observation is a bit like saying that a person of typically good health faces an enduring medical crisis brought on by an episode of, say, bronchitis. In other words, the relatively tranquil (and in Holdren’s view, apparently unsustainable) course of events during the past couple of decades has left us living in a fool’s paradise where the recent disruptions have mercifully provided us with a warning shot across the bow: a welcome opportunity to tackle our energy dilemmas.
I differ with that assessment in some significant ways. Much of what has occurred since the 1980s represents a fundamental pattern of normalcy in energy markets that a one- or two-year upheaval, however severe, is unlikely to undermine. Oil prices spiked during the Arab oil embargo of 197374, the Iranian revolution of 197980, and the Persian Gulf war of 1991; yet over the period as a whole, the inflation-adjusted prices of oil and gasoline have declined. More generally, resource commodities traded in private markets experience cyclical ups and downs in price, as such oil veterans as President Bush and Vice President Cheney surely appreciate. Does an episodic departure from that trend justify the hyperbolic call to arms we’ve heard?
Even its badly managed electric deregulation process was not the sole culprit in California’s situation, which reflects, at least in part, the occasional caprice of nature (drought-caused reduction in hydroelectricity) and the inescapable vagaries of markets: Greatly depressed natural gas prices during much of the 1990s discouraged exploratory and developmental activity. This led to substantial increases in price during the past couple of years, aggravating the state’s problems. But rising prices are even now leading to a dramatic turnaround in drilling activity.
It follows from these points that, for an energy policy debate to be illuminating, a clear distinction should be made between longer-run issues (such as how to deal with climate change, improving the country’s electric transmission network, reassessing the implications of regionally differentiated grades of gasoline, and developing a sustained program of basic energy research) and the sorts of nearer-term volatility problems that have confronted us periodically in the past and are currently facing us again. If episodic upheavals like the present “crisis” are deemed intolerable, someone has the burden of showing that primary reliance on private market forces exacts a social cost the country can’t afford. I don’t personally share that view but at least it’s a topic for a constructive debate. Whatever the merits of their judgments in other respects, neither the administration nor Holdren has adequately faced up to that issue.
In his article, John P. Holdren has erected a big tent within which many complementary approaches to energy policy can be pursued in parallel. Side by side, the United States would pursue short-term and long-term strategies; would develop advanced technologies for both supply and end-use efficiency; would address the risks and the opportunities presented by global interdependence; and would aim for lower costs and improved environmental performance. The time frame is not the next year or two but the next few decades.
Such a message is badly needed at this time. As in 1981 and 1993, a change of administration is bringing with it ideological baggage. Time-worn arguments have reappeared regarding energy efficiency R&D, oil production in environmentally sensitive areas, particulate air pollution, clean coal, even the recycling of plutonium in spent fuel. For many, this is a time to settle scores. Down that path, we already know what will happen: There will be stalemates everywhere, and the widely shared objective of reinvigorating national energy policy will founder. Down the path Holdren proposes, by contrast, the United States should be able to sustain a larger and higher-quality national R&D program, achieve global leadership, and construct a broad consensus around new domestic energy policy initiatives.
I will give just two examples, bearing on energy efficiency and on coal. With many years of research on energy efficiency behind me, I know that energy savings are harder to achieve than is sometimes claimed, but also that technologies deeply embedded in common devices, such as coatings on windows and sensors on fuel exhaust systems, can greatly reduce energy use without impact on the service provided. Those who attack “energy efficiency” or “energy conservation,” whether deliberately or from ignorance of history, are sending a message to prepare for battle. Instead, the administration should be calling for more ambitious energy efficiency policies and, especially, for an enlarged and bolder R&D program. Energy efficiency, like energy production, has a research frontier from which the next energy-efficient technologies emerge.
Coal is critical to the world energy system, now and probably throughout the coming century. For the administration to address the future of coal creatively, it must adopt a global focus and a time horizon of many decades. A global focus leads to active involvement in the commercialization of advanced coal technologies in developing countries such as China and India. A time horizon of many decades leads to a search for ways to use coal while capturing and “sequestering” most of its carbon, because, without effective sequestration from the atmosphere, the carbon in coal will dominate the coming century’s greenhouse problem. Sequestering coal’s carbon is more straightforward if coal’s energy is extracted through gasification, instead of, as today, through making steam. Thus, there is a compelling case to begin now to gain experience with coal gasification and the coproduction of electricity, hydrogen, fuels, and chemicals. An imaginative government-led program addressing the long-term future of coal could transform the coal industry and relieve its sense of siege.
Will the ideologues or the pragmatists prevail? The next months are critical. Focusing a greater proportion of the energy policy debate on long-term objectives and global responsibilities ought to result in a more productive engagement of energy policy’s historic antagonists.
John P. Holdren’s excellent review of U.S. energy policy underscores the numbing consistency of a debate that’s entering its fourth decade. The most enduring truths are these:
- We are not running out of fossil fuels but running out of liquid fuels that are cheap to produce. There’s a lot of oil and gas in formations where it will be costly to extract and a lot of coal if we can find a way to use it without damaging the environment.
- We are nowhere near the thermodynamic limits of efficiency in converting energy to useful services. We should, for example, be able to produce a pleasant white light 10 to 15 times more efficiently than today’s incandescent bulbs do or increase highway vehicle fuel economy by factors of 3 or more without sacrificing performance or safety.
- Attempts to maintain the illusion of perpetual low-cost energy–by war if necessary–have mangled U.S. energy markets for decades. This has left U.S. consumers with homes, appliances, offices, personal vehicles, and equipment that would be ruinously expensive to operate if energy costs suddenly increased. It has also led to patterns of urban development and enormous homes and personal vehicles that make little sense without cheap energy. These long-term fixed investments make Americans even more desperate to keep energy inexpensive.
- Distorted prices and an inability to increase prices to reflect real environmental costs have also undercut private incentives to develop energy inventions for environmentally sustainable new energy sources and for improving energy productivity. The public research needed to compensate has been critical but nearly impossible to manage, given huge ideologically driven swings in funding. The already inadequate levels of energy research funded in fiscal year 2001 were cut, often by as much as 50 percent, by the Bush administration. No sensible research program can be managed when budgets swing violently and without reason. But underinvestment in research has denied us critically important inventions in both energy supply and demand.
- The U.S. style of energy use is vigorously denounced yet widely imitated worldwide. But it is transparently clear that a world in which 7 to 10 billion people imitate U.S. energy use is unsustainable.
If anything, advances in information, biological processing, materials, and many other areas during the past 30 years make it much easier to imagine ways to build a world where 10 billion people could enjoy rewarding, prosperous lives, unconstrained by energy costs and without threatening the environment. Yet the Bush energy plan seems more interested in scoring ideological points than in solving the problem (how else to explain the cute suggestion that increases in renewable energy research be funded only by revenues from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). Why is it so difficult to achieve consensus when the core of a sensible energy policy is essentially identical to programs for encouraging invention and investment that are at the heart of any sensible policy for economic growth? Technical solutions are foreseeable, but the political maturity to seize this opportunity seems to be beyond our grasp.
Could it be that John P. Holdren’s article skips the simplest way for us to thrive? Throughout his article he calls for larger government programs, special incentives, and masses of tax-financed research. What if the problem is that we already have too much of this government meddling? Some may actually prefer to be hot or cold–but free–rather than being air-conditioned slaves.
Brain science and drug policy
In “Addiction Is A Brain Disease” (Issues, Spring 2001), Alan I. Leshner demonstrates his great skill at making complicated scientific issues readily understandable to the general reader. The advances in research he describes present great opportunities as well as challenges; as more is learned about the nature of addiction, the potential for treatment of this very, very difficult disease is tremendously exciting.
The history of efforts to “cure” alcoholism and drug addiction was marked in the first part of this century by ineffective, if not harmful, treatments that bordered on fraudulent in some cases. As a result, many counselors became cynical about the search for a magic bullet to make the problem go away. They know from firsthand experience that changing the patterns of behavior involved in addiction requires hard, hard work on the part of the individual. These experiences produced, at some levels, a distinct bias against medication. As new opportunities for pharmacotherapy become available, the first challenge facing the field of addiction treatment will be to welcome the use of medications that could prove helpful to clients. In a field that has relied greatly on paraprofessionals and on philosophical and spiritually based approaches, extensive training and education will be necessary.
By the same token, as treatment opportunities open, the need for a client to participate in the hard work of counseling and of changing how one lives will remain. Federal and state governments will soon authorize the dispensing of buprenorphine for treatment of opioid dependence by primary care physicians. The significance of this lies in the fact that the other medication authorized to date, methadone, has been dispensed only in highly regulated clinics. Although primary health care practitioners have not emphasized the behavioral aspects of disease in the past, they will have to do so in the future. The implementation of the use of buprenorphine will serve as a precedent for the use of other drugs as they become available.
Public policymakers must be aware that the implications for change in practice come at a time when the addiction treatment field is facing many other challenges. The perceptions that addiction is the result of moral culpability and that treatment is not effective are two enduring misunderstandings that make obtaining adequate resources extremely difficult. In addition, major reforms in criminal justice, welfare, and child welfare have created new demands and pressures on the addiction treatment field. And AIDS and hepatitis C are tragic and costly health problems that fall heavily on the addicted.
On the positive side, there are extraordinarily committed people who provide treatment. And we should all be grateful for the work of Leshner and other researchers, who are providing so much new insight and knowledge that can enhance our efforts to address this terrible personal and public health problem.
What schools need
In chronicling the United States’ serious math, science, and technology skills lag, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman touches only briefly on what is probably its principal cause: teachers ill-prepared to develop these skills in students (“The New Three R’s: Reinvestment, Reinvention, Responsibility,” Issues, Spring 2001).
Last year, Maryland colleges graduated 2,550 teacher candidates. Only 4 of these were certified in physics; 4 in earth/space science; 13 in chemistry; 65 in math; and not even one in computer science. Elementary education candidates, on the other hand–serving grades that will lose nearly 15,000 students in the next three years–totaled 1,005.
What this means, of course, is that more students are being taught math and science subjects by teachers who never majored in them. And data indicate that the students most dependent on their teachers for deep content knowledge–poor and minority students–are the ones least likely to get it. In high-poverty schools nationwide, one in every four classes is taught by someone teaching out of field.
Many studies show that teachers’ subject-specific knowledge, especially math and science knowledge, is the most important variable affecting high school students’ achievement. In the Third International Mathematics and Science Study 1999 Benchmarking Study, 78 percent of Singapore’s math teachers reported majoring in math, compared with just 41 percent of U.S. teachers. It’s not surprising, then, that Singapore’s students posted the highest math scores of all participating countries, while U.S. students performed at about the international average. Nor is it surprising that each year college freshmen require remediation in math more than in any other subject. As Sen. Lieberman pointed out, these skill deficiencies persist after college, with devastating economic repercussions.
It’s clear that improving the math and science performance of U.S. students depends upon first improving their teachers’ preparation. Maryland is working on regulations requiring all prospective teachers to pursue a degree in a single academic or interdisciplinary content area or, at the very least, a degree in a performance-based program that measures students’ knowledge of both academic content and pedagogy. We’re proposing, as well, that all teacher candidates enroll in a yearlong internship at a professional development school. These are real schools, staffed by college faculty and experienced educators, used to train prospective K-12 teachers and, in the process, truly connect teacher education design and school improvement efforts.
Another way to close the technical skills gap is to lure math and science experts into the classroom. Through Maryland’s Resident Teacher Certificate Program, teacher candidates (most often career-changers) with a bachelor’s degree and “B” average in the area of assignment, who pass our initial certification exam and complete a three-week course of study, can begin work as full-time salaried teachers. After more coursework, another certification exam, and mentoring, residents receive a standard teaching certificate.
With Maryland and 28 other states now phasing in high-stakes exit exams that students must pass to graduate, it’s more critical than ever before that teachers have a thorough knowledge of the content they teach. We simply cannot hold students accountable for their learning if we haven’t provided them teachers whose training supports it.
Electric utility deregulation
In “A Short Honeymoon for Utility Deregulation” (Issues, Spring 2001), Peter Fox-Penner and Greg Basheda provide a good summary of the U.S. experience with electricity deregulation, an implausible explanation of why it has gone awry, and a policy proposal that is almost guaranteed to make things worse.
Their explanation for today’s mess is all too common among economists. Fragmentation of regulatory jurisdictions makes it tough to implement a single set of governing rules and regulations, and state legislators gave regulators little if any guidance on market design questions. Be thankful that nobody put together a single set of rules at the start–the entire nation might have gotten California’s. At least this way, the rest of the states can copy Pennsylvania’s and Texas’ and maybe improve on them.
The failure of legislators to give regulators guidance on market design is a blessing. Why would anyone ask a legislature of nonspecialists to allocate its crowded time to a job not even specialists know how to do? Markets were a response to the near-total failure of state-level planning that started with Governor Jerry Brown in the late 1970s. Thanks to the diverse transactions they were making in a west-wide trading arena that had developed with little supervision, California’s utilities were able to undo some of the mistakes of state planning. Nobody had to design markets; they were already there, with nothing needed but a law giving power consumers the same access that utilities and a few others already had. We should have let the market decide what the market would look like.
But if we can put someone on the Moon, surely we can design electricity markets that improve on the haphazard ones that already exist. Wrong. People trying for the Moon are cooperating. People designing markets do not check their self-interest at the door and dedicate themselves to efficiency. Instead they try to win a political competition for those they represent. Is there any wonder California got what it did? Economists testified incessantly on the theoretical efficiency of a mandatory short-term energy market, but the utilities that paid them probably cared not at all about efficiency. Instead, such a market was the surest way to recover their stranded costs and continue dominating retail service while superficially supporting competition.
But Fox-Penner and Basheda are sure next time will be different. They want everyone to get together and plan a coordinated state-federal policy on conservation and efficiency. It will be like the collaboratives that gave California its costly mix of odd power plants and conservation during the 1980s and like the “inclusive” process of the 1990s that gave the state a set of contrived markets that were probably doomed from the outset. Only this time it’s going to work, honest.
In “Bolstering Private-Sector Environmental Management” (Issues Spring 2001), Cary Coglianese and Jennifer Nash suggest that further research is necessary to determine whether implementation of an environmental management system (EMS) is a motivator of strong environmental performance. Further, they caution policymakers against using EMSs as substitutes for traditional regulation or mandating their use.
Any implementation of an EMS must recognize that a facility’s adoption of the EMS is neither necessary nor sufficient for the creation of superior environmental performance. What is necessary is a strong environmental commitment from the top of the organization, combined with the transmittal of that commitment to all lower organization levels for enactment, coupled with a program of follow-up to ensure that the desired performance is actually being achieved. Although an EMS certainly facilitates the attainment of the overall goal of superior environmental performance and provides a framework within which to manage the process, the mere presence of the EMS is not a guarantee of success.
Notwithstanding the above, as organizations address ever more stringent requirements for environmental compliance, the need for a framework on which to build and incorporate the varied compliance and continuous improvement tools becomes apparent. Although one could certainly construct such a framework independently, there are definite advantages in the use of available standards, such as the 1996 International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001. Furthermore, an increasing number of state environmental regulatory agencies are recognizing the use of such standards, and some are offering inducements to firms who are willing to adopt them and, normally, to enter into some form of contractual agreement with the agency.
Often such contracts specify the formation of an environmental stakeholder group and the holding of periodic meetings between that group, the organization, and the agency for the purpose of reviewing environmental progress. This appears to be an excellent venue through which outside stakeholder issues and/or concerns may be addressed. In essence, the agency is placed in the position of acting as a facilitator (in some cases, a mediator) between the parties, with the stage for discussion having been set through the terms of the agreement between the organization and the agency. As organizations look toward a future where full environmental disclosure to outside parties is inevitable, such state-sponsored programs will certainly gain in importance and acceptance.
At this time, however, organizational acceptance of such state-sponsored EMS programs suffers, in many instances, from past fears of loss of control of facility operations and undue meddling by outside, potentially unsympathetic third parties–the stakeholders. As a result, for the immediate future, more specific inducements are going to be required to entice organizational involvement in such programs. This is typically addressed through the granting of some regulatory flexibility in exchange for the adoption of an EMS, which hopefully is accompanied by superior environmental performance. Unfortunately, much of the oft-touted regulatory flexibility that has been offered is mere window dressing, with needed meaningful changes being either undeliverable, due to constraints within existing regulations, or not fully accepted by certain sections of the agencies. Reality dictates that once the low-hanging fruit that has been identified through the process of continuous improvement has been harvested, little additional action will be undertaken unless the boundaries of the playing field are changed. Given the plethora of programs being thrust upon most manufacturing facilities, once the incentive of savings dwindles, so will management’s interest in these programs.
Cary Coglianese and Jennifer Nash are two of the nation’s best scholars on environmental systems. They correctly caution against the wholesale replacement of regulations with environmental management systems (EMSs) and against using the “mere presence” of an EMS as the sole admission criterion for an optional regulatory track.
However, they risk being shortsighted in opposing alternative requirements for organizations with EMSs, perhaps a consequence of their focus on regulated firms and regulated pollutants rather than the larger picture. It also is unfortunate they use words such as “less stringent” and “weakening” when describing changing the status quo, inviting a bias against policy innovation.
I see four reasons why the EMS has value in public policy, even in its adolescence: First, EMS-containing regulatory structures are more likely to produce environmental benefits than is the brain-inhibiting compliance system. In a performance-oriented policy framework, the EMS process challenges regulator and regulated to see beyond the minimum.
Second, EMSs can provide “presumptive due diligence” to a firm in a regulatory innovation program. If applied in policies such as Wisconsin’s proposed Green Tier contracts with transparency and immediate problem correction, the EMS gives regulators the confidence needed to shift resources to greater risks. They also can use EMSs to connect regulated and unregulated entities as well as conservation and pollution control practices.
Third, EMSs can provide stakeholders the data needed for a dynamic and adaptive system that aspires to stretch goals, facilitates innovation, learns from mistakes, and promotes best practices. This is unlike the compliance data system, which is focused on failure. We should build a good EMS data-populated environmental learning system with the same determination with which we built the compliance data system, realizing the high cost to business and the environment of learning by failure.
Fourth, EMSs provide an opportunity for regulator and regulated to “talk system performance” with confidence and trust instead of “argue compliance” with suspicion and distrust. Coglianese and Nash document the trend toward differentiation between performers. Civic environmentalists need a language of performance that is on par with the regulatory environmentalists’ language of compliance, and systems terms should be in that vocabulary.
Coglianese and Nash know that EMSs alone will not produce environmental performance and that linear, rigid regulatory policies won’t, either. So it is worth the risk to create policies that fit with the world’s adaptive and dynamic ecosystem. Then we will need tools that fit those policies. This will not happen if we wait for the perfect EMS tool, especially as we enter the policy storm of the energy-environment nexus.
Cary Coglianese and Jennifer Nash’s article provides a credible overview of some of the activities currently underway in the private sector that have the objective of improved environmental management, as well as the public-sector response to these activities. However, the article does focus somewhat on the idea that policymakers, particularly in the new administration, may provide incentives to regulated firms that include “regulatory relief.” In my opinion, this could be the worst phrase ever invented and attributed to the national efforts to develop a new generation of environmental policy. “Regulatory relief” is one of those phrases that means whatever the reader wants it to mean. In particular, for those of us who are working to push the evolution of policy that will be more intelligent, effective, and efficient at achieving good environmental outcomes, regulatory relief is used by those who wish to protect the status quo to claim that all this effort is about granting the regulated community license to pollute. In my experience both here in California and with the other states through the Multi State Working Group (MSWG), relief from environmental standards has never been an issue.
I agree with the authors’ point that reduced oversight by regulators, which is often cited as a possible “benefit” to firms in an excellence or green tier program, may be counterproductive. I never really understood the purpose of reduced oversight. Oversight by public agencies is actually a collection of activities such as inspection, reporting, and permit conditions designed to produce information about how the regulated community is performing relative to accepted standards. One could mount a strong argument that this information system works poorly and that we as a society could get much smarter about how it operates. But reduced oversight doesn’t cut it. Again, this term rightly inflames the status quo protectors. Let’s drop it.
Also, I agree with the necessity of establishing the claim that environmental management systems (EMSs) lead to environmental gains. This is after all a core mission of MSWG, but let’s not overemphasize this issue. I find it hard to believe that a well-designed EMS would do anything other than produce environmental gains. Otherwise one would need to conclude that unsystematic management without defined goals is superior.
Finally, I do differ with the authors on their premise that audit privilege will reduce disincentives to EMS adoption and that government should offer such privilege. My experience, somewhat influence by my public service perspective, is that anything that limits information about an issue as important as the environment and public health is counterproductive. All of the firms with which we deal in California have found benefit in their open communication policies. The idea that enviroterrorists are lurking in the bushes to attack companies who voluntarily release information has proved to be bunk.
Better environmental regulation
For years now, reformers have advocated changing our system of environmental regulation to rely more on market-based approaches and less on command and control to define the goals of our environmental control efforts more precisely, and then give states and regulated industries more freedom to select the means of achieving them and to insist on more refined monitoring efforts as the indispensable complement to that greater freedom.
Richard A. Minard, Jr.’s “Transforming Environmental Regulation” (Issues, Spring 2001) articulates those familiar suggestions more forcefully, and documents the case for them far better, than many other discussions. But, like many of those other discussions, it proceeds in a technocratic and somewhat apolitical manner, as though once the merits had been made clear, all reasonable people would agree. Perhaps because of this focus, it fails to fully discuss three issues that any serious reform effort will raise and thus fails to suggest how we might address them. These issues are:
- Reform of agency management. The National Academy of Public Administration report on which the Minard article is based described the insurmountable resistance of organizations within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approaches that might reduce EPA’s control over others’ choice of the means of environmental betterment. Although the article blames inflexible laws for this reluctance, this is only half true. One might well ask here, as in many other areas, whether our current culture and systems of government management are well suited to the new approaches that Minard recommends and that the dot.com era will require.
- Determining the appropriate jurisdiction. Our current laws require detailed federal involvement in many matters of largely local interest, such as the proper standards for cleaning up a hazardous waste site in the middle of a state. Decisions of this nature quite arguably should be left to the citizens of the state involved, who will both pay the costs and enjoy the benefits. Given this principled case for “devolution,” it will often be difficult or impossible to give states greater freedom to select the means of environmental protection without also giving them greater freedom to select the ends. Yet such devolution will be controversial, particularly among those who believe that a centralized approach results in greater environmental protection. Minard, however, does not discuss such issues.
- Addressing the rights of private landowners. Increasingly, addressing environmental problems (such as non-point source water pollution and wildlife protection) will require changes in land use. Performance-based approaches, if adopted, would further highlight that requirement. Such land use changes, particularly if federally required, raise difficult legal and political issues, such as when a regulation creates a “taking” and the extent of federal power to regulate land use. Failure to address such issues has become an important obstacle to reform in this area. Minard’s suggestion that farmers be subsidized to reduce their non-point source pollution implicitly acknowledges these complexities, but there is no accompanying discussion of them.
“Transforming Environmental Regulation” states that the “hallmark of the new approach is the creation of incentives for innovation.” But what if innovation is already happening–innovation with enormous environmental implications, which is focused on the very basis of our production systems? Then the question is not “How can we take our old toolbox of regulatory approaches (cap and trade, whole-facility permitting, and so on) and apply them to new models of production?” but “How can we fundamentally shape the emerging production systems to be more environmentally benign?”
A quick tour through the business and management literature should be enough to convince most skeptics that something is happening on a grand scale to our manufacturing systems. People are talking of a second industrial revolution, the “napsterization” of business-to-business commerce, the deconstruction of value chains, an explosion in contract manufacturing, and the personalization of fabrication. If the management gurus and industrial researchers are even half right, an incredible opportunity is appearing on the horizon. It would be like creating an environmental protection agency in the late 1800s, when the first industrial revolution was occurring and we had an opportunity to shape the system rather than react to its adverse impacts for the next 100 years.
Do we want to approach this new set of opportunities with an old toolbox of regulatory approaches, many of which were developed for vertically integrated production systems? What if whole-facility approaches have little applicability to turnkey production networks stretched across multiple states or countries that can be reconfigured every six months? What happens when I can airlift robotic manufacturing modules across the world or move production code from a three-person office in Idaho to a semiconductor fabricator in the jungle in Borneo? It is not unreasonable to expect that in the future, consumer items ranging from computers to cell phones to automobiles could emerge from small assembly shops almost anywhere in the world. Fabrication today is where computation was 20 years ago. It tends to occur in large centralized facilities and it is only now finding its way out into the wider world (as the personal computer did) at smaller scales that allow customized production of short runs.
The Environmental Protection Agency needs to stop reinventing itself for the old world and position itself to take advantage of the next industrial revolution. Maybe, at the article suggests, the proven regulatory innovations will continue to be effective, but maybe not. Are we, as a government and as a society, prepared to place this bet? The key to cost-effective environmental protection is crafting policy relevant for tomorrow’s systems of production, not yesterday’s. This principle should hold true regardless of political persuasion.
Conflict in space
As John M. Logsdon (Issues, Spring 2001) writes, space weaponization, a necessary part of space power, could have tremendous international and commercial impacts that should be discussed and taken into consideration before it is eventually implemented. However, there is no denying that the overall strategy behind space power is interesting and deserves more attention.
The analogy with sea power and naval strategy is obvious. The idea of reproducing the 19th-century British dominance of the seas in the 21st century, through information dominance and the weaponization of space, is very attractive. Furthermore, one cannot dispute the conclusions of the congressionally chartered Commission to Assess U.S. National Security Space Management and Organization, which was chaired by Donald Rumsfeld. The United States, and their allies to a lesser extent, are increasingly dependent on space assets for both national security and commercial activity. They are therefore vulnerable to so-called asymmetric attacks that could lead to a “space Pearl Harbor.”
So, is space power the key? No, simply because it is not realistic. Unlike the situation at sea, it is trivial for any “country of concern” with bad intentions, such as launching a ballistic missile, and modest space access capability (let us say 1,000 kilograms at an altitude of 800 km for the sake of the following example) to design and launch global space weapons.
In fact, 1,000 kilograms could become 10,000 100-gram “hit-to-kill particles,” orbiting at 7.5 kilometers per second (the velocity at an altitude of 800 km), each with an individual kinetic energy 100 times greater than a bullet from the most powerful handgun on Earth. Such a pollution cloud would act as a fast-drifting minefield that would trash low Earth orbit for hundreds of years. One would also obtain a similar result if one decided to blow up a satellite or an upper stage of a rocket in the same orbit.
Space power, if implemented, could then become the first step to “mutual assured pollution” of space, which would definitely impede the peaceful and military uses of space. I am confident that most are aware fully of that.
John M. Logsdon’s “Just Say Wait to Space Power” provides a good backdrop for the growing debate about the militarization of space. But although the title of the piece and, indeed, the overall tone of the article suggest that a go-slow approach is warranted to determine the necessity of such action, Logsdon ends by positing that space war “is more likely than not to occur” in the future. It is unclear whether he supports that development or is resigned to the fact that it will happen, but nevertheless, the notion that war in space is inevitable can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Recent government actions certainly indicate that there is strong support within the upper echelons of the Bush administration for such an effort. On May 8 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tasked the Air Force with the responsibility to prepare for sustained offensive and defensive space operations. Essentially, Rumsfeld has formally established the Pentagon infrastructure that will prepare for the weaponization of space.
A primary justification for this stems from the report of the Commission to Assess U.S. National Security Space Management and Organization (which Rumsfeld chaired until he became secretary of defense), which stated that because of our increasing reliance on space satellites, we are vulnerable to a “Pearl Harbor in space.”
But that statement is outright fear-mongering that is intended to unnerve Congress so that the money to expand space-based weapons programs starts to flow. Further, such assertions ignore the fact that today, unlike 60 years ago, the United States is the greatest military power on the globe, with clear superiority in command and control technology, weapons systems, and intelligence-gathering ability. The Pentagon is rushing headlong to prepare for a threat that does not and may never exist.
Moreover, building space-based lasers and antisatellite weapons will make the effort to create a land-based national missile defense system–which has cost $70 billion over the past 18 years–look cheap and easy by comparison. An effort to put weapons on satellites will entail monumental technical difficulties and huge costs and portends an arms race in space that is in no one’s interest.
Rather than being a leader in weaponizing space, the U.S. should be the champion of reaffirming the tenets of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and expanding its scope in order to ban all weapons in space. By doing so, the Bush administration could claim as its legacy that it had ensured that all of space would remain free of weapons.
During his famous 1962 “We choose to go to the Moon” speech, President Kennedy touched on the issue of space possibly becoming a battlefield and made a prescient point. “Space,” Kennedy said, “can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.” Let us hope that cooler heads prevail and this generation is not doomed to repeat history.
Several alert readers noticed that the “Archives” photo of the dedication of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in the Spring 2001 Issues was not a picture of the South Pole. There are no hills and exposed soil at the South Pole. The ceremony that is taking place is the dedication of the South Pole station, but it took place at nearby McMurdo Station.