Friday, June 10, 2011
Policy Analysis of the National Environmental Policy Act
A. The National Environmental Policy Act
The first policy written in the United States to address environmental issues was the National Environmental Policy created by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 and the subsequent creation of the Environmental; Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. B. The Purpose of the Policy
The act states in section 101 that Congress recognizes the impact of man’s activity especially population growth, urbanization, industrial expansion, resource exploitation and the importance of restoring and maintaining the environment. In section 102 it states that Congress authorizes that policies, regulations and public laws should use an interdisciplinary approach to identify and develop ways of ensuring that major actions that could significantly affect the quality of the environment should first detail the impact of the action, list any adverse affects, list alternatives, state the relationship between short term use and long term productivity, state any irreversible commitments of resources. (NEPA, 1969).
C. The History of the policy and the problems it addressed.
After World War II with the establishment of the nuclear and chemical age, the environment and people began to be exposed to new and deadly substances. The United States Government began dumping nuclear waste into the oceans in 1946. (Leopold, 2000). Oil companies that previously produced lubricants, gas and oil diversified into petrochemicals including chemical fertilizer. The American people became very aware of environmental issues. Because of the boom in home building in the suburbs, the expansion in the ownership of automobiles for transportation and the need to build superhighways to accommodate the cars, pollution became more visible and harder to ignore. (Dukakis, 1999). In addition to air and water pollution from smog and waste, Americans were made aware of the dangers of pesticides like dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) with the publication of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring in 1962. The book generated a lot of interest from the public as well as opposition from the chemical industry. Carson did not call for the immediate banning of all pesticides. She pointed out the need for science to explore natural ways of controlling pests and increasing food production. (Graham, 1978) The chemical industry attacked Carson, which generated more publicity for her book, but although more people became aware of environmental issues and DDT was banned in the United States, pesticide production has increased from 124 million pounds in 1947 to 638 million pounds in 1960 to 1.4 billion pounds in 1985. Along with this, cancer rates are also increasing. (Epstein & Briggs, 1987) These facts are at the heart of the lack of effectiveness of the EPA. There is a constant struggle between those who profit from exploiting the environment and those who want to develop it sustainably. The chemical industry uses various tactics to hide the effects of chemicals on humans and the environment. They have hidden reports from the EPA, harassed, criticized and tried to discredit ecologists, epidemiologists and researchers who do not agree with them and they along with other industries that oppose government regulation have suppressed reports that expose practices that are harmful to the environment.
D. What are the benefits, eligibility criteria and the beneficiaries of the policy/program?
Everyone who lives and breathes in the world is experiencing the problem. Cancer rates are going up not just because people are getting older. Chemicals are in our food, air and water. The effect on our bodies and the environment even when they are documented and studied are often hidden from the public. The people who experience a problem may not even be aware of the origin of the problem Efforts to prove that one particular chemical causes a particular illness or disease have not been successful in the US. On the other hand many grassroots groups and organizations are aware of the issues and work very hard to inform the general public about unsafe environmental practices. NEPA is a federal act and the will to enforce it should come from the federal level. There is no way to stop what happens in one state from affecting the air and water supply of another state. I believe the precautionary principal adopted by some European countries is a good one. It would force chemical companies to do testing at their expense. This would force them to find the safest solution, not the short term cheapest solution for them which has the end result of being a very expensive solution for the public for health reasons as well as for environmental clean up. All of us living on the planet would be beneficiaries.
E. What level of government is responsible for its administration and financing?
The EPA and the PA DEP are funded and administered by the Federal and State Government with taxpayer dollars. This year’s federal budget proposes a cut of $1.49 billion from last year. (Restuccia, 2011) The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has had its budget cut over the past five years to 59% of what it was in 2000-2001. (Bauers, 2011)
F. Some of the issues and problems with implementation
Implementation is an issue for a number of reasons. The main reason is that the interests of industry usually come before the interests of the environment of the public. The chemical industry of which oil and gas is a part, experienced great growth after World War II mostly because of the development of synthetic organic petroleum based compounds like DDT and vinyl chloride based plastics like PVC and CPVC piping. (Herman, 2007) The side effects of these chemical-based products on people and the environment were not obvious at first. Because they were effective as pest control and relatively cheap they were widely sold and used. By the time scientists discovered the side effects a large network of interrelated industries was in place. Industries that required the chemicals, farmers now dependent on pesticides, scientists employed by the industry, and the agriculture departments of both state and the federal government allowed the grandfathering of the use of some products so business as usual could continue. In addition to this the burden of proof to link any chemical to any illness is on the public. In the early years after the passage of NEPA under the administration of William D. Ruckelshaus people and responsibilities were transferred from different departments to the EPA. Before reorganization, the registration of pesticides was regulated by the Department of Agriculture; the pesticide label review was regulated by the Department of the Interior; Air, Solid Waste, Radiological Health, Water Hygiene, and Pesticide Tolerance were regulated by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Transferring these responsibilities to the EPA enabled the agency to enact the Federal Environmental Pesticides Control Act (1972); Safety Standards for Farmworkers (1974); regulation of land use (1972); and significantly revise water pollution legislation (1972). Regarding the regulation of water pollution, the EPA changed the focus from the quality of water to restricting effluent discharge with the goal of reaching zero discharge. Thousands of rules and regulations were modified or enacted during this period. (Wismer, 1985)
During the oil crisis in 1973, the EPA and Congress modified the Clean Air Act to allow for more use of coal and eased automobile emissions standards to allow for greater fuel economy. Under the administration of Douglas M. Costle from 1977 to 1981, the major problem was chemical dumping at sites like Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York. The Hooker Chemical Company owned and operated a municipal and industrial chemical dumpsite that was covered over with dirt and sold to the city for one dollar in 1953. Homes were built on the site, but in the late 1970’s after a hard rain drums of chemical began to surface and the chemical soup leached into yards, homes, playgrounds and the school. The entire community was evacuated. (Beck, 1979) In response to this in December 1980 the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) also known as the Superfund Act was passed. The act required oil and chemical companies to pay into a fund to clean up toxic waste sites. It expired in 1995. Pennsylvania has more than 100 Superfund sites, the second highest in the nation. There are also 1000 hazardous waste sites around the state. (Penn Environment, n.d.)
The Reagan Administration in an effort to relieve the burden that these regulations imposed on the business community appointed a task force headed by George H.W. Bush to review existing regulations and streamline the bureaucracy. Of 176 regulations, the task force revised or eliminated 76. They also added a new regulation. Executive Order 12291, issued February 17, 1981, states that any government agency proposing new regulations had to consider the cost benefit. Reagan also cut the EPA’s staff by 11% and its budget by 12%. By 1984, the EPA staff cuts totaled 29% and the budget was cut 44% from what it was in 1980. (Sandhu, 1988). H.R. 564 the Superfund reinvestment Act of 2009 has been introduced by Representative Earl Blumenauer D-OR but has not been passed. That bill would reinstate the Hazardous Superfund financing rate and the corporate environmental income tax until 2018. There are two related bills, the Superfund Polluter Pays Act introduced by Senator Bill Nelson D-FL and the Polluter Pays Restoration Act introduced by Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ. (Open Congress, n.d.). When laws are enforced, rather than protecting the environment, companies pay fines related to the violation if the violation is caught. In the case of hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale for example the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association reports 1614 violations by gas drillers in Pennsylvania alone since 2008. (Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, 2011) From 2005 through February 1, 2011 the total dollar amount of the fines imposed by the PA DEP was at least $2,106,318. The average fine however was $23,666 which is low enough for a company to pay without hurting their bottom line. (Hamill, 2011)
G. Is the program successful? Who says so?
The policy can be effective or not effective depending on the political climate and whether it favors business or the people. Currently the program is not successful. The public can be manipulated by industry misinformation and advertising. In the case of Rachel Carson, the public, the press and the President were all sympathetic to her message. Her book was published soon after the thalidomide scare when pregnant women who took the drug for morning sickness produced children with severe birth defects of the limbs. (National Toxicology Project, 2010) People were concerned with the effects of chemicals on humans and the environment. The New Yorker Magazine published an excerpt of the book and CBS aired a documentary on Carson and the book even though some of the sponsors dropped out of the show. Ten to fifteen million people watched the interview. In spite of this fact pesticide use on farms, for lawn care and in households has consistently grown. (Herman, 2007) Why and how can this be?
Part of the problem is that we use chemicals everyday in many ways. In addition to gasoline for our cars, we use soap, shampoo, cleaning products, weed killers, plant food, plastic food containers, diet foods, non-stick coatings, medicines and many other products. It’s difficult for us to believe that they are harmful if we buy them in supermarkets and bring them home. It’s almost impossible to imagine what life would be like without antibacterial soap or toothpaste. The chemical industry counts on this normalized acceptance of chemicals. Scientists who criticize a product or a policy do not always project the same physical appearance as corporate sponsors or newscasters. They may have a less polished appearance than an industry spokesperson. They may look like you or me. The information they impart may not fit into a sound bite between commercials. In addition to this, the chemical industry deliberately creates doubt and confusion about scientific findings when they do not align with industry policy. The term “junk science” is applied by the industry to environmentalists, researchers, critics of the industry and lawyers who sue on behalf of clients. According to Consumers Union the publisher of Consumer Reports, “the phrase "junk science" has been coined by those practicing public relations and lobbying activities on behalf of some companies in certain industries--particularly the plastics, chemical, biotechnology, and pesticide industries. While its coiners may have legitimate grounds for debate on some issues, the phrase has been used far too often to discredit honest public interest organizations and legitimate scientists who express concerns about consumer safety and environmental risks.” (Wagner, 1999). When the industry funds scientific research and experts, the media accepts them without criticism. Often there is little separation between what is still called independent media and chemical companies. The Washington Post has an executive of Johnson and Johnson on its board of directors as well as a few investment bankers. The Chicago Tribune has a CEO of a major pharmaceutical company, two insurance company executives, and one from an electric utility. All of these industries oppose government regulation. The same corporate culture and class consciousness applies to the advertising industry. According to Herman (2007), of the 100 largest national advertisers 31 are chemical companies. Auto companies use chemicals like oil and gas and are concerned with regulation of those goods. If you add the food industry and their relationship to chemicals, the print industry that produces toxic waste in paper production, you may not have a conspiracy, but you do have a business plan that does not include the health of people or the health of the planet. (Herman, 2007) These companies also depend on a short public memory. Although dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was banned in the US and many other countries, there is a campaign endorsed by the World Health Organization to bring it back to “save African babies” from malaria. (Schaffer, 2006)
H. Identify gaps and unmet needs and solutions.
Where is the EPA in this picture? Severely under funded and subject to the agenda of several decades of Republican industry friendly rule, the EPA is portrayed as a part of big government thwarting the progress of industry. Unfortunately they have not been able to even regulate the majority of chemical substances they were tasked with in 1976. Seventy to seventy five percent of toxic chemicals in use have not been tested. In the case of Monsanto and Santogard, an anti-scorching chemical used in the rubber industry, the EPA found a report on the negative effects of the product that Monsanto did not give to them as the law required. Monsanto was fined $196,000 (by law the fine should have been 19.7 million) and asked if they had any more hidden reports. 164 were found. The company was fined $648,000 for those. Knowing that other chemical companies must have done the same thing, the EPA granted an amnesty to the industry with nominal fines for the next three years. The industry produced over 11,000 documents. (Herman, 2007) No business was thwarted by the EPA.
After the chemical accident in Bophal India in 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act which directed chemical companies to inform the public of releases of 654 known chemicals into the environment. The disclosure showed that several billion pounds of toxic chemicals were spewed into the air each year. There was virtually no media coverage of the Toxic Release Inventory. Since then, twenty four states have passed “audit privilege laws” allowing companies to conduct their own audits and correct their own issues. (Herman, 2007) Knowing the history of the industry this does not seem like a good solution for people or the planet.
Albatross chicks die every year from eating tiny pieces of plastic that they mistake for food. While consumers are responsible for some of the plastics in the ocean, the small pellets from which plastics are made come from industrial waste. Fishing nets which once were made of plant fiber are now made of plastic adding to the problem. (Azzarello, M. & Van Fleet, E. 1987)
In order to effect any real enforcement of this policy which proposes to protect the environment from the influences of human activity and restore and maintain it so man and nature can coexist in healthy and pleasing surroundings maximizing the use of the environment without harm while preserving it, maintaining diversity, expanding renewable resources and recycling depleted ones there will have to be some changes in the awareness and the will of the people of the country.
According to the Mt Sinai Medical Center “Over 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released by industry into the nation's environment each year, including 72 million pounds of recognized carcinogens” and “of the top 20 chemicals discharged to the environment, nearly 75% are known or suspected to be toxic to the developing human brain.” The hospital has launched an environmental health education campaign in Queens, NY that includes a workshop on alternatives to plastic. (Mt. Sinai Medical Center, 2001)
J. Compare policy position with Social Work Speaks.
Social Works Speaks Environmental Policy quotes part of an op-ed article. The article begins by asking the question, “If everyone were mentally ill, how would we know whom to treat?” (1995, Berger). He calls our participation in harming the environment, “habitat destruction syndrome” and compares it to a mass mental illness. Berger states that although we are surrounded by information regarding the impact of environmental degradation over the past 50 years, as a society we do little about it. Because the changes are gradual and because we are not as conscious of nature due to our lack of contact with it, we don’t see this issue as a crisis. Because we are inundated with crisis messages through email and social networking sites from a myriad of organizations, we feel overwhelmed and unable to choose which issues we should prioritize or act on.
According to Social Work Speaks, social workers have a “professional obligation” to educate ourselves on environmental issues, to support enforcement of the EPA, to support the use of non-toxic products in schools and the general society and to support the regulation of chemicals through the EPA and other agencies. Social Work Speaks calls the environmental crisis a “major public policy issue that will influence all future human development.” It also goes on to say that there is a solution to the crisis if we act in a timely manner. The concerns of social workers go beyond concerns for the environment to include the health issues that people face including increased rates of cancer, respiratory issues and illnesses linked to the continued use of pesticides. Communities of color are especially vulnerable to be host to chemical plants and toxic waste dumps nationally and internationally. We may face opposition perhaps even in the form of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suits that are filed against regular people who participate in public dialogue with government agencies in reacting to or reporting among other things, reporting environmental violations. (Potter, 2008)
The current economic crisis can also be a time of opportunity. For some of us, being laid off or underemployed can give us the chance to follow in the footsteps of our grandparents who had victory gardens and grow our own food. We can use more glass containers than plastic. We can walk more than drive. We can read more about the crisis and think more about what we can do about it. We can write to and call our legislators and the companies that produce offending products or packaging. We can go to local meetings of environmental groups. We can make our own cleaners from simple materials at home. We can use power strips and turn our appliances off when not in use. We can put tap water in the refrigerator instead of buying bottled water. We can use cloth bags when we shop. How many chemicals are essential to your daily life? How do you profit from their production and their use? Is your financial future tied to the debasement of the environment through stock ownership or a 401K? If so divest of these interests. These sound like small steps but any act, no matter how small helps to change us as individuals and our relationship with the larger world around us. It’s the first step to becoming politically active outside of the voting booth. Engagement is essential to our continued survival as a free people and to a sustainable planet.
I. Identify available agencies, services or programs available in your area or your hometown including addresses and telephone numbers.
DEP Northeast Regional Office Bethlehem
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701-1915 4530 Bath Pike
Business Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Bethlehem, PA 18017
570-826-2511 (24 hours/day) Business Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Regional Director: Michael Bedrin 610 861-2070
24 Hour area hotline 570-826-2511
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Posted by Diana Balot Frank at 10:53 PM