• U.S.

Legislation: Policing the Polluters

3 minute read

For years, Congress has heard and uttered pieties about the environment.

Meantime, the Federal Government itself has become the nation’s biggest polluter. All sorts of tunnel-vision agencies, from the Agriculture Department to the Army Corps of Engineers, have pursued narrow goals that destroy delicate balances in nature and sometimes endanger human life. The glaring need is an overall body to coordinate the goals and protect the environment in a systematic way.

Last week the Senate subcommittee on air and water pollution approved a bill sponsored by Maine Democrat Edmund Muskie that would set up an in dependent “Office of Environmental Quality.” The Senate has also just unanimously passed a remarkable bill in troduced by Washington Democrat Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, chairman of the Interior Committee. A shrewd politician, Jackson finessed his bill through on the consent calendar, which bypasses floor debate. His “National Environmental Policy Act of 1969” would do no less than:

> Require Congress and every federal agency to interpret all federal laws, policies and regulations in terms of a new national goal — safeguarding and enhancing the physical environment.

> Order federal agencies to present Congress with alternative policies based on the finest ecological research.

> Create a top-level Board of Environmental Quality Advisers in the executive branch — 25 or 30 leading experts who would develop new policies, criticize existing programs and advise the President directly.

The only precedent for Jackson’s sweeping bill is the Full Employment Act of 1946, which established the framework for a managed economy and created the Council of Economic Advisers. If the Environmental Policy Act becomes law, the result may well affect every imaginable special interest—airlines, highway builders, mining companies, real estate developers. As for the effect on federal agencies, Jackson predicts: “The law will immediately hit the Atomic Energy Commission’s nuclear power program by requiring the AEC to curb thermal pollution. It will have an immediate impact on all defense programs—everything from the siting of ABM missiles to chemical and biological warfare. It will affect federally financed highway programs and every Army Corps of Engineers project.”

A bill that opens all federal policies to challenge might seem doomed in the House, which still has to approve it. But Jackson is undaunted. As a strong supporter of the ABM, he got the Nixon Administration to give qualified endorsement to his bill, and he expects the House to go along. “This bill required months of intricate negotiations,” says Jackson. “We’re going to get it passed.”

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