EPA Administrator Outlines Environmental Strategy

In his first public remarks since he was sworn in as EPA administrator, Mike Leavitt addressed EPA employees Dec. 2, telling them about his overall approach to environmental protection and previewing a work plan cleaning up the nation's air.

Leavitt emphasized collaboration and market-based solutions to environmental problems, as opposed to prescriptive legislative approaches.

"I am convinced that formalized collaboration is the next great leap in environmental productivity and EPA can lead the way," said Leavitt.

More specifically, the administrator argued for market-based "cap and trade" programs instead of more rigid 'prescriptive' approaches.

"We need to take the giant step toward national market-based solutions," he asserted. "The cap and trade approach shows us again and again that people do more and they do it faster when they have an incentive to do what's in the public interest."

There is a good deal of evidence that the Bush administration is attempting to replace traditional prescriptive environmental rules with more flexible, but still mandatory cap and trade requirements. These market-based programs allow individual companies with high emissions to buy emission credits from cleaner-operating plants, in order to meet an overall industry target.

The cap and trade strategy was used successfully to reduce acid rain in the 1990s and it is also central to \\Bush's Clear Skies proposal, currently stalled in Congress. The president's critics argue that Clear Skies uses cap and trade to weaken the more rigid requirements of the Clean Air Act. In his address, Leavitt called for quick passage by Congress of Bush's Clear Skies proposal.

It has also been reported that the Bush administration may rescind a December 2000 EPA ruling that would impose a tough new mercury standard on power plants, requiring them to cut mercury emissions significantly.

The alternative EPA is considering: a mandatory cap and trade approach to the mercury problem. Environmental critics say the result would save the utility industry hundreds of millions of dollars, while allowing higher levels of mercury pollution for many years to come.

Despite the charges that the administration is working too closely with industry special interests, in his speech Leavitt expressed a high level of optimism about the value of "environmental teamwork" and the move away from legislated environmental requirements.

"I envision a new wave of national environmental productivity beginning in America," he said. "It is emerging not from new legislative initiatives but from people joining together in collaborative networks for environmental teamwork."

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