Four prominent environmentalists discussed bills under consideration by the U.S. Senate which would transform the face of American environmental policy at the Kennedy School of Government last night.
Approximately 150 people filled the ARCO Forum of Public Affairs at the Institute of Politics to hear the panelists debate sections of the "Contract with America," focusing on the issues of risk assessment and cost benefit analysis of environmental policy.
"We're finally getting serious about environmental policy...we all care about the environment, but it's time we engage our brains," said Fred Smith, President of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Michael McCloskey, chair of international affairs for the Sierra Club, and Lynn Goldman, a spokesperson for the EPA, criticized the current proposals, saying that cost benefit analysis should not be the sole determinant of environmental policy.
McCloskey condemned current proposals to "economize" environmental policy.
"They're oriented towards having us learn to live with toxins in our environment," he said. "[This] represent[s] a turning away from ideal of pollution prevention."
Goldman also noted the difficulty of "quantifying health and environmental factors" in a cost-benefit analysis. Moreover, she argued, it fails to take into intangible factors such as equity into consideration.
Paul Portney, Vice President of Resources for the Future, disagreed, asserting that risk assessment and cost benefit analysis were "damn good idea[s]."
He pointed to the need for agencies to "take cost into account in setting standards...and to certify that benefits will exceed the costs" of enforcing environmental standards.
Fred Smith, the president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, took a more extreme stance. He said that the United States should look beyond government regulations towards market solutions, and "transcend the bureaucratic state."
The panelists also discussed possible legislation, which would create a judicial review provision allowing citizens to challenge policies made by environmental agencies.
Goldman criticized the judicial review provisions sharply, saying that agencies would be swamped with petitions.
"Litigation gridlock would be the inevitable consequence [of judicial review]," she said.
While Portney agreed with Goldman on some points, he noted the necessity of "filtering out bad decisions without meddling in every policy."
The discussion was co-sponsored by the Environment and Natural Resources Program of the Center for International Affairs, the Kennedy School of Government and the Center for Business and Government.