Friday, April 03, 2009

A New Environmental Policy for Delaware, Part 2

For many elected officials, policies are simply a matter of picking from a menu. Republicans tend to pick mostly from Column A while Democrats tend to pick mostly from Column B.
But Jack Markell’s speech Wednesday night was not just a set of policy proposals, but a description of how he thinks about environmental issues.
Yes it’s exciting to hear a governor say that Delaware “must strive to become the first state largely powered by renewable resources.” But I am just as excited by what Markell said about how he thinks about policy, particularly in using economic analysis to inform sound environmental policy.
Collin O’Mara’s nomination to head DNREC caused some to wonder whether the new talk about climate prosperity would eclipse the agency’s traditional functions.
Markell was sure to underscore
the need to be diligent in enforcement as a cornerstone for building green industry, saying “we can’t build the economy of the future unless we have the courage to clean up polluting industries of today.”
He added that traditional enforcement would be informed by a broader economic analysis:
But bringing facilities into compliance alone won’t be enough, we must put policies in place that examine the costs of continuing the status quo by identifying harmful impacts of pollution.
For too long, we have not examined all of the costs of pollution in our state: healthcare costs, environmental degradation, infrastructure demands. These are real costs. They have real consequences and deserve real consideration.
That’s why I recently directed DNREC to intervene in Delmarva Power's Integrated Resource Plan with the Public Service Commission and I want to make this a standard practice going forward.
Markell cited two other areas ripe for economic analysis:
Expanding recycling: despite the short-term economics of recycled materials, it will be much more cost-effective in the long-term to prioritize recycling instead of the purchase of another landfill site (assuming we could even identify one).
This of course is the case I’ve been making for three years. (Not that I’m taking credit for his thinking; I’m excited by a governor who gets it.)
He applies similar thinking to land conservation:
Conserving land: calculating the true benefits of land preservation, including watershed management & water purification, wildlife habitat, local food production, and air quality & carbon sequestration (trees/soils) all have an intrinsic and economic value.
This point of view was captured in a now famous issue of the journal Nature with the headline “Pricing the planet,” that described the first serious attempt to put an economic value to on the planet’s natural resources. (The estimated value in 1997 was $16-54 trillion.)
I discussed many of these ideas with Collin O’Mara when I met him three weeks ago. Whether it’s the economic analysis of recycling, the relative efficiency of different carbon reductions technologies, the importance of capturing externalities of polluting industries or calculating the energy savings from street trees, he understood every point I could raise, often better than I did.
I like to say that how a person thinks is as important as what a person thinks. Jack Markell signaled his thinking when he first wrote that
capturing long term economic costs and benefits was key to understanding the prospect of offshore wind power in Delaware.
To have a governor and DNREC secretary who understand how energy, economics and the environment are being reshaped makes this an exciting time for policy wonks—and for making a Delaware a leader in building a new green prosperity.


Anonymous Edmund Dohnert said...

While economic cost-benefit analysis has an important place in forming environmental policy, I have seen it too often used as a tool by various industries in an attempt to show that proposed regulations are going to adversely impact them.

During the 1970s just about every major US industry hired high-powered consulting firms such as ADL to evaluate the economic impact of the many new air and water pollution control regulations being formulated at the time by EPA. I had been involved in many of these studies. And guess what: the consulting firms usually came up with the answers their clients wanted to hear.

As one of Mark Twain's characters once said,
"Show me whar a man gits his corn pone, and I'll tell you what his 'pinions is."

11:43 AM, April 04, 2009  

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