Improving Enviromental Management

Executive Summary

Along the San Francisco Bay/Delta, the most human-altered estuary on the West Coast, a one-mile stretch of shoreline may be affected by the decisions of over 400 government agencies. This one-mile stretch points up how environmental policy is marked by duplication and overlap, turf battles, and political jockeying. Numerous agencies participate.

Consider this: The Bureau of Land Management oversees 60 percent of the federal lands for multiple purposes; the Forest Service manages our National Forests; the Fish and Wildlife Service manages our National Wildlife Refuge System; the National Park Service oversees the National Parks and Grasslands for recreation and preservation; the Environmental Protection Agency implements national waste management and air and water quality laws; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration manages coastal zones and living marine resources; and such agencies as the Bureau of Reclamation, the Federal Highway Administration, the Department of Energy, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Department of Defense run programs with significant environmental impacts.

With environmental regulation spread out among so many players, President Clinton is seeking a dramatically new approach, --ecosystem management -- exemplified by the Forest Plan that he announced shortly after his April 1993 Forest Conference in Portland, Oregon. Under the concept, land and resource managers consider how to handle natural processes and human activity within a given region. The government will organize its activities around ecosystems, not political jurisdictions.

The Federal Role.

The federal government, however, sends out signals not just through its policies but also its daily operations -- how it manages the lands, buildings, and other facilities that it owns or operates. In that arena, too, past practices have raised questions about Washington's commitment to a clean environment.

The government operates office buildings,housing developments,industrial plants, parks, and golf courses. It manages lands used in a variety of activities. It provides aid for research and development. And it regulates many private activities. To support these functions, the government owns or operates over 500,000 facilities- about 430,000 residential, with the rest office buildings or industrial and research facilities. The government also manages about a third of all land in the United States. Thus, the federal government's sheer size makes its impact on the environment apparent. In those daily operations, the government has generated significant amounts of pollution and caused other stresses on our ecological systems. The government and the nation continue to pay through higher operating costs, clean-up costs, and the loss of our natural resources and a clean environment. Instead of being a model environmental actor, the government has become part of the problem.

A Vision for Action

In this report, the National Performance Review (NPR) lays out a new vision for federal action, one that builds upon the changes already underway in the White House, in departments and agencies, and at the state level. The NPR foresees the federal government as a continuing force for positive change to:

promote sustainable economic development,

prevent environmental degradation,

reduce costs, and

maintain the long-term health of the nation's ecological systems.

Our specific recommendations on "reinventing environmental management" should help create a government that, as the NPR's summary document promises, "works better and costs less". It will work better by reducing its negative impacts on the environment and ensuring productive, sustainable natural systems. And it will cost less by incorporating environmental considerations into its decisions and, from a fiscal as well as an environmental standpoint, operating its facilities and programs more efficiently.

In how it incorporates environmental matters into its activities, the federal government sends an important signal to the nation. NPR wants to help make that signal a resoundingly positive one. So, too, does President Clinton. In his 1993 Earth Day address, he stated that the federal government needs to "stop not only the waste of taxpayers' money but the waste of our natural resources."

This report offers two sets of recommendations for fundamentally new approaches.

Improve Implementation of Environmental Management.

For environmental management, Washington has traditionally used pollution control techniques, rather than the more desirable pollution prevention strategies. One key reason is the government's current accounting and financial analysis methods. Because they do not include environmental costs, these accounting and financial methods encourage public officials to choose alternatives that appear cheaper in the short term -- although government and society pay more through expensive clean-up, environmental degradation, and litigation costs over the long term. The government clearly needs to develop a system of environmental cost accounting to help federal managers evaluate all costs -- including the environmental ones -- associated with government's decisions.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Defense Department should convene an interagency working group to develop demonstration projects, over the next two years, to test the use of environmental cost accounting in the federal government. The President then should issue a directive to implement environmental cost accounting where appropriate.

As we have seen, environmental management is divided among numerous federal agencies with inconsistent mandates and conflicting jurisdictions that follow bureaucratic, not ecological, boundaries. Consequently, the government spends far too little time focused on the health of whole ecosystems. And while several agencies have developed ecosystem management statements, they (and divisions within the agencies) differ in just what that concept means. For the concept to work, the agencies should develop collaborative programs around common goals.

Thus, the President and top administration officials must work to break down bureaucratic barriers that prevent agencies from working together to protect the environment. The President should issue a directive that would establish ecosystem management as a national policy as well as specific steps to implement it. The director of the White House Office on Environmental Policy should establish a high- level inter-agency task force to develop ecosystem management demonstration projects, while the Office of Management and Budget should review proposed agency activities in selected ecosystems as part of the fiscal year 1995 budget process.

Improve Environmental Performance at Federal Buildings and Facilities.

In fiscal year 1991, the federal government paid nearly $3.75 billion in energy costs for its buildings. Without losses in comfort or productivity, the government likely could conserve 25 to 40 percent of the energy used in those buildings through commercially available, cost-effective, efficiency upgrades. Water conservation measures also could help alleviate not only water problems in local areas, which anticipate or have experienced water shortages or rate increases, but also reduce energy use. By conserving water, the federal government not only will help keep costs down, but will lessen local pressures for new water treatment facilities and power plants.

While the 1992 Energy Policy Act requires that the federal government conserve energy and water -- that is, cut energy usage 20 percent by the year 2000 and install all energy and water conservation measures that pay for themselves within 10 years -- current funding and procurement processes are interfering with that goal. Agencies' inability to retain cost savings achieved through energy and water efficiency projects also creates a disincentive for the agencies to carry out these projects.

In this area, the President should issue a directive that addresses the need for energy and water conservation in federal facilities and either encourages or directs agencies to adopt policies that rely on less polluting forms of energy. He also should propose legislation that would allow the Defense Department to retain savings generated through water efficiency projects. At the same time, agencies should develop rules, procedures, and legislation to allow them to keep rebates from utility companies beyond the fiscal year, and to apply them to additional energy efficiency and water conservation projects or to cut the facility's future utility bills.

Federal facilities also require substantial landscaping activities. Modified landscaping techniques not only would help the government demonstrate environmentally sound behavior, they would also save money. By using native plant species, for instance, the government can significantly improve an area's ecological value. And by using less water and chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, the government can generate economic and environmental benefits.

Consequently, the President should issue a directive to require the use of environmentally beneficial landscaping for federal lands and facilities, and federally funded projects, where appropriate. The directive should be designed to increase the use of native plant species in all federal landscaping activities, reduce the quantity of chemicals applied to federal landscapes, use water-efficient technologies in federal landscaping projects, provide educational and conservation opportunities to the public, and create a governmentwide Environmentally Sound Landscape Program.

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