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An early spring.

Weather forecastcrs are predicting a cold winter in Washington - thanks to the effects of Mount Pinatubo's eruption - but for environmentalists it already feels like spring.

On January 20th, Bill Clinton will become the 42nd president of the United States, accompanied by Al Gore, the first bona fide environmentalist to be vice president. Environmentally concerned citizens around the world are looking with anticipation to the things that may be accomplished by the new government in Washington.

On the domestic front, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit left by the Bush administration. In his last painful year in office, President Bush took a marked anti-environmental turn, weakening many regulations, ranging from air quality standards to wetlands rules. Many of these executive actions can be quickly reversed, and enforcement stepped up.

With Al Gore in the vice president's chair, the White House is likely to spur the Environmental Protection Agency to tougher standards, rather than throw out good regulations as Dan Quayle's Council on Competitiveness has done during the past four years.

The next priority is to build on some of the EPA's more innovative initiatives under Administrator William Reilly. Cooperative programs that encourage private companies to install energy-efficient lights, refrigerators, and computers are good models for leveraging scarce federal dollars. These deserve to be increased in scale - used, for example, to encourage the automobilc companies to build cleaner cars.

Amid their reasons for optimism, environmentalists need to make sure the new administration doesn't abandon its environmental commitments in a headlong rush to jump start the economy. For instance, road-building programs gussied up as "infrastructure development" could turn out to be environmental disasters - destroying open spaces and worsening air pollution. Federal money would be better spent on building rail lines and weatherizing public housing units, which will also create jobs.

The new administration can also send a positive signal by adopting federal procurement standards for recycled paper, glass, and other materials, by installing efficient light bulbs in government buildings, and by eliminating parking subsidies for federal employees.

Internationally, the United States has the opportunity to go from laggard to leader in the effort to build an environmentally sustainable global economy during the next four years. Vice President Gore, who led the U.S. congressional delegation in Rio de Janeiro, understands the ecological challenges the world faces as well as any politician. Among the critical priorities: reducing U.S. consumption of fossil fuels and stepping up support of environmental programs in developing countries.

It is high time that the country with the largest economy (and the greatest use of natural resources) begin leading the effort to save the planet.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Worldwatch Institute
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Title Annotation:environmental protection
Author:Flavin, Christopher
Publication:World Watch
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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