Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Triteness and policy initiatives: Is our governor’s executive order on greenhouse gas emissions control not already addressed in NEPA?

There is a growing demand for incentives to reduce carbon emission. We have seen proposals from cap and tax program to some unique programs designed to discourage use of petrochemicals industrial pollutants. The governor of the State of Washington had recently mandated state agencies through executive order, to work with their counterparts in other six western states, and probably all the fifty states and the federal government to help control green house gas emissions and to create jobs. Not that all these programs really matter considering the type of reception past government policies on the environment had received. When the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 was initiated, the objective was to have in place a policy that encourages productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment, stimulate the health and welfare of man, enrich understanding of the ecological systems and important natural resources. If one considers the grandstanding purpose of the act, it would not be far-fetched to say that, had the objective of title I of the National Environmental Policy Act been met, it would not be necessary to now be considering alternative policy strategies to address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions at the state level.

According to Title 1 of NEPA, the federal government wanted NEPA to: 1) Fulfill the responsibilities which each generation has as trustees of the environment to succeeding generations; 2) Assure Americans safe, healthy, productive, aesthetic and culturally pleasing environment; 3) Attain the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences; 4) preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our natural heritage, and maintain, whenever possible an environment which supports diversity, and a variety of individual choice; 5) Achieve a balance between the population and resource use which will permit high standards of living; and 6) Enhance the quality of renewable resources and approach the maximum attainable recycling of depleted resources. Reading through the provisions of title 1, one can eventually say, what much difference can there be with respect to an executive order to control greenhouse gas emissions. The truth of the matter though is that NEPA has achieved a lot, yet in some realm at the State level, very little. In an effort to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, If the government of a state duplicates the policy component of NEPA, except of course an Environmental Impact Statement, would it not be trite? Would it not be trite to consider the same policy objectives that drove the initiation of NEPA forty-years ago in the year 2009? Are there no more fresh ideas at the State Level to help address greenhouse gas emissions? I vehemently disagree with those that say the problems are dissimilar at this time. That the environmental issue that NEPA had tried to resolve is necessarily different from a State governor’s mandate to control greenhouse gas emissions in the 21st century.

My contention is that we do not need to re-invent the spade. NEPA like the Clean Air Act of 1970 had both answered challenging questions about the environment that the current executive order on controlling greenhouse gas emission may aspire to resolve. Experiences and knowledge gained over close to four decades with NEPA and the 1970 Clean Air Act are sufficient enough and transferable enough to discountenance any impact that an executive order may have in resolving the issue of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington State. There is no need to duplicate the fervor of an existing federal law, voted on by a representative constituent assembly at the federal level at a state level, especially when it looks as if an undemocratic process is being used to accomplish the task.
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