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Environmental issues for the 1990s: guidelines for the private sector.

Personnel in environmental health agencies are frequently asked by members of the development community about what new regulations they might expect as they conduct their long-range planning. The following are some environmental trends we are beginning to see, and the emerging environmental issues and areas of regulation.

There are three growing environmental trends:

* public awareness and involvement;

* political action and reaction; and

* public/private partnerships for environmental and economic development.

Public awareness and involvement

The public sees international environmental issues on a daily basis on television and in the newspapers, regarding the hole in the ozone layer, global warming, Chernobyl, the Greenpeace movement, Earth Day celebrations, recycling, studies on Love Canal and Three Mile Island. Citizens are aware of environmental issues and hazards. They want information in lay language and want to know specific risks, information which is often unavailable. They are technically more knowledgeable than ever before.

They wish government to reduce all non-voluntary risks to zero; they wish private industry to clean up environmental problems to pristine quality; they do not accept the concept of "acceptable risk" or "below regulatory concern." There are whole new fields of risk assessment management and communication, and discussions of "how clean is clean?" and how potential health risks compare to known, everyday risks.

When available information shows that a particular risk is extremely low, there is public reluctance to trust that data, whether the data come from industry or government. The public is better educated, more aware, more vocal, politically more active. It expects environmental "good behavior" and symbolism from elected officials, fast food chains, supermarkets and others.

Political action and reaction

As a corollary, there is heightened political interest. Candidates campaign and make headlines on environmental issues, vying for the "green" vote. Candidates for offices which have very little direct impact on or control over the environment still campaign on platforms of environmental improvement. Planning commissions are more environmentally concerned than they have been in the past. There has also been a rapid increase in the types of environmental legislation introduced and passed. Some of this legislation is excellent; some is well-intentioned but poorly considered. Nevertheless, increased legislation usually means increased environmental regulation, and more often than not regulation of the private sector. If government continues in its financial straits, a greater proportion of the costs will be borne by citizens and industry.

The trend toward public/private partnerships for environment and development

A natural outgrowth of all of this public concern is greater private concern for the environment. Private business is made up of local citizens, too--people who realize that the environment needs to be preserved for their own children and grandchildren. There will be greater attempts by corporations to find environmental "good will" projects, and greater expectations by others that they will do so.

There is growing recognition locally, nationally and internationally that just as economic development pays for environmental protection, so also there can be no lasting future for economic development in a deteriorating environment. An example of this recognition was the United Nations Summit in Brazil in June, 1992 on development and environment. In 1990, five Latin American countries announced their intentions to work cooperatively in the areas of development, environment, finance, agriculture and human services. They recognized that they could develop more quickly together than separately and by acknowledging that seemingly diverse issues are interconnected.

So, too, developers, recruiters, environmental officials and the public will seek win/win solutions. For example, a large industry providing new jobs might offer to purchase and build park-and-ride lots and provide shuttle service so that it will not contribute to traffic congestion and air pollution. There are many creative partnerships and opportunities waiting to be seized. Those who do so first will gain a much greater share of the public relations benefits. There will be a trend away from enforcement, and toward a working relationship of government with industry to achieve environmental compliance through internal quality processes.

There will also be improved multi-governmental partnerships. There will be greater regional scale planning and policies to cover environmental "sheds," such as air sheds and water sheds, regional solid waste and wastewater management, greater cooperation between government agencies within cities, and between municipalities, counties and private firms.

The following are just some of the areas of possible future regulation.

Air pollution

There will be greater controls on new development with regard to its impact on traffic patterns and air quality. We will see increased citizen and neighborhood demands for improved quality of life, and vocal participation in new development approvals. There may be land use requirements which support alternative travel, such as bike-and-ride and mass transit. There will be controls on volatility of gasoline to reduce its contribution to local ozone problems, and the possibility of requiring Stage II vapor recovery systems. We may see further restrictions on fireplace use and new restrictions on the number of fireplace units allowed per dwelling or per acre. There will be greater mandated use of alternative fuels, compressed natural gas, propane and blends, particularly in fleets. Citizens will face disincentives for the use of the private vehicle, through higher parking fees, reduced availability of parking, restricted lanes for carpooling, trip reduction ordinances, and higher taxes on gasoline, autos in general, and fuel-inefficient cars. We will have improved mass transportation systems, particularly for areas which are approaching gridlock: possibilities include light rail, elevated rail and rapid rail networks between cities. Auto emissions programs may include diesels, expand years of vehicles covered, use new technology to spot the worst emitters on the road, and require annual inspections.

Water quality and supply

There will be more restrictions on land use as it relates to the potential for groundwater contamination. Groundwater policies will include hazardous materials and waste storage siting plans, as well as zoning restrictions on where certain types of activities can take place.

Many communities are "mining" their water supplies, taking water out faster than it is recharged. There will be greater conservation measures, such as restrictions on days of week, or quantities used, or types of landscaping. There will be low water use/low allergen landscaping requirements. New industry will be more closely scrutinized as to its use of water, potential for groundwater contamination, and on discharges and their impact to waste water treatment plants.

Energy policy

There will be new incentives for efficient home, auto and industrial use, and energy rate structures that force conservation. There will be a push for alternative, "environmentally friendly" energy use in lighting, heating and fleet vehicles. New building proposals will include energy life cycle cost estimates. Sales of homes and businesses with these features will become more attractive, and ordinances may require the achievement of energy efficiency before resale. We may see the emergence of "light pollution" controls. Government and industry should take leadership roles in the transition from non-renewable to renewable resources such as solar and wind, through capital investment, new infrastructure and employee retraining.

Consumer products

There will be more consumer awareness of products that do not create harmful byproducts or effects in manufacturing and use, and greater competition among local businesses which wish to be considered environmentally "green." There will be additional food regulations to keep up with new foods and new ways of processing, packaging and preparing food products.

Open space and real estate

Increased noise from traffic, airports and population density may affect real estate. Zoning decisions will consider noise impacts and potential health effects of electromagnetic fields; and neighborhoods will become more involved in siting waste, industrial facilities and power generation plants. There will be increased protection of sensitive natural environments and unique neighborhoods. As urban areas expand and density increases, these special areas will become more valued. The real estate industry will increase its use of site environmental audits; the development community will hire risk assessors and risk communicators. Decisions on real estate options will be based on which are "cleaner," more free from liability.

In light of these trends, environmental health personnel can make the following recommendations to the development community.

* Involve the public through outreach, information and education, and public relations. Publicize your corporate environmental policies, and the ways in which you are striving to minimize negative environmental impacts. Practice risk communication.

* Become involved in political action; help ensure that environmental legislation is balanced. Extreme environmental legislation is not only unrealistic, but is costly and difficult to enforce.

* Seek out staff people who think creatively, who recognize inter-relationships, who are good at team work. Think across fields, about who could help a venture succeed and make the ultimate decision better.

* Actively initiate win-win public/private environmental partnerships.

* Give your support for continued and increased environmental health resources when needed. More environmental health staff do not work against development, but rather for the type of community and environment we would all like to see. Fewer staff results in a more purely regulatory agency, with less emphasis on prevention, consultation and education.

Sarah B. Kotchian, Director, Environmental Health Dept., City of Albuquerque, P.O. Box 1293, Albuquerque, NM 87103.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Guest Commentary
Author:Kotchian, Sarah B.
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Words:1506
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