AS President-elect Clinton prepares for his two-day economic summit next week, a bipartisan commission - including top Clinton advisers - is calling for major government policy changes to inject an "environmental ethic" into virtually every aspect of the economy.
The recommendations, if followed, would transform many aspects of business and private life over the next five years. Among them: a dramatic increase in gasoline taxes and a new tax on carbon-producing fuels; elimination of government subsidies that encourage wasteful use of natural resources; a cabinet-level Department of the Environment with broader responsibilities and authority than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); more government investment in "green" research and development; and a sharp increase in foreign aid for economic development and population-control assistance abroad.
"Choosing a Sustainable Future" results from two years of work by the National Commission on the Environment. The group was convened by the World Wildlife Fund and headed by its chairman, former EPA administrator Russell Train. The 19-member commission includes four former EPA chiefs, two corporate CEO's (Paul O'Neill of Alcoa and John Bryson of Southern California Edison), former World Bank president A. W. Clausen, and former Congressional Budget Office director Alice Rivlin. The group also includes two
prominent Clinton advisers - former Vermont governor Madeleine Kunin and James Gustave Speth, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under Carter and now president of the World Resources Institute.
The extent to which Mr. Clinton will heed the recommendations remains to be seen. But they closely parallel points made recently in the Progressive Policy Institute's "Mandate for Change," a book released Monday. The institute is a project of the Democratic Leadership Council, which both Clinton and Vice President-elect Gore helped found in 1985, and Clinton has highly praised what he calls the book's "bold new course for reviving progressive government in America."
OTH works emphasize the use of "market forces" to control pollution and protect natural resources over "command-and-control" regulations.
"Regrettably, the US statutory and regulatory system is woefully inadequate, cumbersome, and sometimes even perverse with respect to environmental issues," states the National Commission on the Environment's work. "A regime that now emphasizes `end-of-the-pipeline' cleanup must be radically reformed into one that makes use of economic incentives and encourages pollution prevention."
Here, "market forces" do not mean "free-market forces," however, or a regulatory hand that is necessarily lighter. Instead, "regulators should tap the power of the marketplace to provide economic signals and financial incentives necessary to achieve environmental and social policy objectives." This would include "taxes and subsidies ... to ensure that prices reflect environmental costs." For example, the commission recommends raising the federal gasoline tax by 20 cents each year for the next five years as a means of encouraging reduced petroleum use and greater vehicle efficiency. In real terms, the price of gas would be about what it was in 1981, still considerably less than Europeans pay.
In addition to taxing what it calls "social bads," the commission also would eliminate "various government subsidies that are no longer justifiable." It would do away with federal water subsidies for farmers who also receive government crop subsidies, for example, as well as applying "fair return principles" to the management of federal lands where logging, grazing, oil and gas drilling, and mining occur.
Much was made in the recent presidential campaign of "jobs versus the environment," but commission chairman Mr. Train rejects this as a "false dichotomy" - as did Clinton and Gore.
"Unless this country takes bold steps now to marry environmental and economic prosperity," Train says, "the risks of continued environmental deterioration and long-term economic decline are grave."