Roberts Helps Devise McGovern Ecology Policy

A young Harvard economist played a key role in the preparation of a comprehensive environmental policy statement released Sunday by the McGovern-Shriver campaign.

Serving as executive director of McGovern's advisory panel on environmental issues, Marc J. Roberts '64, associate professor of Economics, worked with members of McGovern's "issues" staff in assembling and selecting the proposals that went into the statement.

The statement includes proposals on a wide number of environmental issues.

In accordance with Roberts's view that "the environment" is an urban as well as a wilderness issue, the statement gives considerable emphasis to problems of the urban environment, such as the lack of recreational space in and around urban areas, noise pollution, and rat control.

Also in keeping with suggestions that Roberts made, the statement includes a lengthy section, entitled "the environment of the workplace," which deals with occupational health and safety.

"Compared to the usual campaign promise, this (statement) is unusually detailed," Roberts said Saturday. In fact, the statement contains more than 90 specific policy recommendations.

The statement begins with an attack on President Nixon's environmental record, which it calls "fertile with rhetoric but barren in performance." It charges that the Nixon administration has attempted to weaken proposed legislation, that it has failed to spend millions of dollars appropriated for environmental protection, and that it has failed to enforce existing legislation "energetically or effectively."

The remainder of the statement is devoted to McGovern's "agenda for environmental action." The "main initiatives," according to the statement, include these:

"Passage, full funding, and vigorous enforcement of the Water Quality Act of 1972.

"Development of tax incentives -- like taxes on sulfur emissions and effluent discharges -- as a means of curbing industrial pollution.

"A ten-fold increase in the number of safety and health inspectors needed to enforce legislation aimed at making the workplace environment less dangerous.

"Substantial redistribution of Highway Trust Fund monies away from roadway construction and into mass transit capital, maintenance and operating expenditures.

"Greatly expanded research and development funding for such problems as urban transportation alternatives to the internal combustion engine, alternative energy sources, oil tanker tracking ... and control, similar in principal to current aircraft control systems but based on the peaceful application of our satellite technology."

Roberts collected specific proposals for the program from a wide variety of sources, including environmental groups in Washington and members of the MIT and Harvard faculties. "It's possible to get a lot of free advice from your friends by picking up the telephone," Roberts commented.

In conjunction with members of McGovern's staff, he pulled together a first draft, which was circulated to members of McGovern's Environmental Policy Panel for their comments and suggestions.

Roberts want over the recommendations of the policy panel with members of McGovern's staff and then worked with them to produce a final draft.

Besides acting as an advocate for an environmental program that would address the problems of the city and the workplace, Roberts said he feels he was also able to increase the attention given in the program to considerations of the equity and efficiency of various techniques for dealing with environmental problems.

"This is the second step in the environmental movement," Roberts said. "It's not enough to say we have to save the redwood trees. We have to ask, 'How do we do it? Who pays for it?'"

For instance, at Robert's suggestion, the program includes a proposal for shifting more of the financial burden for municipal water pollution control from the narrow tax base of the cities to the broader, more progressive Federal tax system.

The McGovern statement includes one major position to which Roberts has previously expressed public opposition. The statement supports passage, full funding and vigorous enforcement of the Water Quality Act of 1972, a bill Roberts has opposed.

Roberts said, however, that he agrees with others in the campaign that McGovern, who joined in the 86-0 vote for the Senate bill, should continue to support the existing legislation. "It we had three years and 60 guys, there'd be time to write an alternative bill," he said. "But the campaign is no place to conduct a major public exercise on the real subtleties of the pollution problem," he added.

Roberts asserted that creating a real debate on economic issues in a Presidential campaign requires "a lot of staff work early in the campaign, so that the candidate has an opportunity to educate himself in depth." The necessary amount of staff work was not done early enough in this campaign, he suggested.

On McGovern's tax and welfare program, for instance, Roberts commented, "A good deal of staff work was not done before June 6 (the date of the California primary, in which it was a major issue), but between June 6 and the beginning of September."

Most people involved in the campaign failed to realize "how difficult the problem (of preparing economic positions) was, how much work really had to be done," Roberts said.

Part of the problem, he noted, was that, at least until the California debates, the general view of academics had been that research done for political campaigns "doesn't really have to be Grade A work."

It's become apparent, he said, that "an economical policy advanced in the political arena meets criticism as strong or even stronger than one advanced in the economic areas" and requires equally careful preparation.

"It's not enough to say we have to save the redwood trees. We have to ask, 'How do we do it? Who pays for it?'"