The EPA has launched an effort to establish national environmental goals that will help guide policy and gauge whether various cleanup and protection efforts are effective. The goals are intended to help the agency “manage for results” — such as cleaner air, purer water, and healthier habitats — rather than serve as bureaucratic markers, such as counting the number of permits issued or enforcement actions taken, said EPA Administrator Carol Browner.

“One example is the Chesapeake Bay,” Browner said at a recent goals meeting in Philadelphia. “If you look at the approach that has been taken in the Chesapeake Bay, it has been to manage for results.”

In recent years, the Bay Progam has adopted specific goals to help meet its broader objective of restoring the Bay. Its goals include improving water quality by reducing nutrients reaching the estuary by 40 percent by the year 2000, increasing the area covered by submerged grasses to 114,000 acres, and constructing fish passages that would open 1,356 miles of spawning habitat to migratory fish within 10 years.

“We have to look at ecosystems — at the natural systems in their entirety,” Browner said. “We can’t continue to look narrowly if we are going to solve these real environmental problems.”

Environmental laws have successfully forced pollution reductions, yet they often have failed to restore and protect healthy ecosystems, she said.

“We have to be willing to step back and look at what we are seeking to protect, in the broadest sense, and then develop goals and develop measurements that will demonstrate whether or not we are in fact achieving that broader goal,” Browner said.

Browner was in Philadelphia Jan. 31 for the first in a series of roundtable meetings the agency has planned across the country to get input from citizens, business leaders, government officials, and others in developing the goals. A final set of goals is expected to be released on Earth Day 1995.

Most of the major environmental laws that the EPA is charged with enforcing contain statutory and regulatory requirements rather than specific goals. For example, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act directs the agency “to regulate the marketing of economic poisons and devices, and for other purposes.”

Others, such as the Clean Water Act, have goals that have never been met and are not likely to be reached in the near future. The Clean Water Act, for instance, called for the elimination of discharges into navigable waterways by 1985, that the discharge of “toxic pollutants in toxic amounts be prohibited,” and that there be an interim goal — wherever attainable, that water quality should protect fish and wildlife and provide for recreation in the water by July 1, 1983.

“I think that after two decades of environmental protection, we do need to clarify what is the purpose of environmental protection,” Browner said. “What are the goals we seek to achieve, and what are the means by which we will achieve those goals and how will we know whether or not we are achieving those goals.”

To do that, the National Environmental Goals Project is expected to develop a three-tiered approach to setting goals. The Tier 1 goals would establish measurable conditions in the environment to be reached by a certain year. The Tier 2 goals would specify reductions in pollutant loadings or other sources to reach the Tier 1 goals. The Tier 3 goals would establish the specific work that the EPA and others must complete to accomplish the overall goals. Once developed, the goals will be subject to another round of public review before their final release.

David Gardiner, EPA Assistant Administrator for Policy, Planning, and Evaluation, told the Philadelphia group that establishing — and meeting — goals would help build public trust in the government’s ability to protect the environment.

Among the potential goals that EPA has suggested are:

  • That by a certain date, a specific percentage of the nation’s surface waters will meet standards set by the states to protect aquatic and human health.
  • That by a set date, releases of toxic chemicals from industries would be reduced by a certain percent, and that by a certain date municipal wastes would be reduced by 25 percent through source reduction and recycling.
  • All pesticides that do not meet safety standards will be off the market by a certain date. The EPA will seek the adoption of integrated pest management methods on 75 percent of farmland by the year 2000.
  • The overall ecological health of the environment will be improved by protecting the physical, chemical, and biological components and processes of ecosystems. Viable populations of native plants and animals, well-distributed throughout their range, and the genetic variability within those populations will be preserved.

Browner expressed hope that a goal-oriented approach would allow more flexibility in the way that the agency — and the regulated community — achieves those objectives. “We can’t do it all,” she said of the EPA. Instead, she said, the federal government, states, local government, businesses, and citizens must “forge partnerships if we are to move forward.”

Many participants voiced issues they wanted the goals to address. A local government representative raised concerns about “unfunded mandates” — any federal requirement that would require additional spending by municipalities. Several industry representatives said risk assessments should be emphasized in the goals, another said the goals should take into account the need of businesses to be globally competitive. Still others said the “environmental justice” should be emphasized in the goals, so poor and minority communities are not subjected to a disproportionate amount of risks in the location of landfills, incinerators, and other pollution sources.

Still, participants generally lauded the notion of having broad goals, particularly if given flexibility in achieving them. One described the current regulatory system as “having no goals at the top and 12 pages of how to change a light bulb at the bottom.”

About the EPA's goals process

These are the 13 areas the EPA has selected for goals, and the types of issues it wants these goals to address:

  • Clean surface waters: Many U.S. waters still don’t meet water quality standards. Cleaner water will require changes in the way chemicals are used, land is managed, and wastes are disposed of.
  • Clean air: Air quality has improved, but millions of people live in areas that still do not meet all air quality standards. Further pollution reductions are needed from cars, trucks, power plants, industry, and previously unregulated sources.
  • Stratospheric ozone layer protection: The ozone layer is breaking down, allowing more cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation to reach the Earth’s surface. The United States is phasing out most ozone-depleting substances.
  • Climate change risk reduction: Increasing “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere threaten to change the Earth’s climate, damaging ecosystems, agriculture, human health, and coastal habitability. To slow this change, emissions must be reduced from automobiles, fossil-fueled power plants, and factories.
  • Ecological protection: Many species of plants, animals, and microorganisms are being driven to extinction because of natural habitat.
  • destruction, pollution, and overharvesting. Ways must be found to protect these natural resources.
  • Prevention of wastes and harmful chemical releases: Billions of pounds of toxic chemicals are released every year to the air, water, and land. Efforts to reduce the generation of wastes are beginning to produce results, but more more can be done to prevent all forms of pollution
  • Cleanup of contaminated sites: Abandoned waste sites are widespread in the United States. Cleaning them up has been expensive and slow, although the pace is picking up. The higher the cleanup standards, the more it costs in time and money.
  • Prevention of oil spills and chemical accidents: Oil and other hazardous substances are accidentally released to waterways, the ground, and air every day. Better prevention strategies need to be developed and tested.
  • Safe indoor environments: Americans spend most of their time indoors where contaminants such as radon, tobacco smoke, toxic chemicals, and micro-biological organisms pose serious health risks that are difficult to “regulate away.”
  • Safe drinking water: U.S. drinking water is among the best in the world, but disease-causing microorganisms and toxic chemicals still contaminate the water that thousands of people drink. More prevention, monitoring, and treatment are needed.
  • Safe food: Contaminated food remains a concern, especially for infants and children. The debate over what constitutes “acceptable” risk also continues. Better sanitation and pest management practices offer opportunities for safer food.
  • Worker health and safety: Industrial and agricultural workers are exposed to toxic substances that cause cancer and other health problems such as reproductive disorders in women. More needs to be done to prevent work-related diseases.
  • Improved understanding of the environment: Information is key to understanding problems and the ways to solve them. Preventing pollution will require awareness of the changes all of us must make in the ways we do things.

— Source: EPA