A new panel will examine U.S. environmental policy
When President Bush announced the formation of his Commission on Environmental Quality on July 23, it was tempting to be cynical about the committee's views on conservation. After all, of the 25 members, 13 could be described as captains of industry, and only three represented environmental groups. A headline in The Washington Post read: POLLUTERS WELL REPRESENTED ON NEW ENVIRONMENTAL PANEL.
"The skepticism is earnest and well placed," says a Bush Administration official. "But the skeptics should look at who these guys really are. And I hope the skeptics look at what these guys eventually do."
Who are these guys? Well, among the commission members are Dow Chemical chairman Frank Popoff, Browning-Ferris Industries CEO William Ruckelshaus and Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing CEO Allen Jacobson. "They're the best and brightest of corporate America as far as the environment goes," says Amos Eno, policy director for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, an environmental group that's not represented on the board. "Dow pledged $3 million to us last year for wetlands protection, but more important, it asked us how to manage its privately owned lands as wetlands. And 3M has been been cleaning up in excess of federal regulations for more than a decade." Eno also gives high marks to Ruckelshaus, the commission vice-chairman and the former director of the Environmental Protection Agency. "His integrity and credibility are impeccable," says Eno. "He's as good a corporate environmentalist as there is."
And what will these guys eventually do? "We'll try to find ways for business, science and government to collaborate on cutting pollution," says N.J. Nicholas Jr., co-CEO and president of Time Warner (SI's parent company) and the chairman of the commission's subcommittee on education and communication. "A cooperative solution always works better than legislation."
Good business sense can well serve the environment. Corporations currently spend $115 billion a year to comply with federal environmental laws. "They [the members of the commission] know it's usually more expensive to clean up than never to have soiled," says Interior deputy secretary Don Knowles. "They want to find front-end solutions: how not to pollute."
The commission, which will make a full report upon the completion of its two-year charter, will also give the President ongoing advice. It can only be hoped that he will heed that counsel and not just point to the commission as an example of his action on the environment.
Last week, Bush gave the new group a 45-minute pep talk, stressing that he wanted concrete proposals. He mentioned that at the recent economic summit in London some of the other heads of state expressed their misgivings about the environmental policy of the U.S. It seems that the President has a few as well.
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