EPA’s Sustainability Gambit
The EPA paid the National Academy of Science (NAS) $700,000 to determine how to integrate sustainability as one of the key drivers within the regulatory responsibilities of the EPA.
Adopting sustainability as a key driver would have an enormous effect on how we develop and use our energy resources.
The study is already known as the “Green Book” within the EPA.
The study did not, however, try to define sustainability, which it should have, because there is no widely accepted definition of sustainability.
Rather than defining sustainability, the NAS used president Obama’s executive order 13514 entitled Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance that broadly defines sustainability as the ability “to create and maintain conditions, under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.”
The NAS study said the experience of the European Union, that has adopted an all encompassing vision, “is especially relevant”. The EU’s specific priorities include, “climate change and clean energy; sustainable transport; sustainable consumption and production; conservation and management of natural resources; public health; social inclusion, demography and migration; and global poverty.”
As applied to the United States, the study says the EPA needs to establish “how to define and control unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and how to encourage the development of sustainable communities, biodiversity protection, clean energy, environmentally sustainable economic development and climate change controls.”
The study proposes new tools, specifically the use of “sustainability impact assessment” as part of the Environmental Impact Statement process. Environmental Impact Statements for siting power plants, transmission lines and development of mines and drilling etc. can already take years. Adding a sustainability assessment will increase the time it takes to approve projects – and increase the hurdles that result in projects being denied approval.
The study urges the EPA to “create a new culture among all EPA employees.” It encourages the EPA to “hire an array of new experts in order to bring the sustainability focus to every corner of the agency and its operations.”
The study says the EPA should adopt a suite of tools that have the ability to analyze present and future consequences of alternative decision options on the full range of social, environmental and economic indicators.
Little of this was reported in the media.
Adoption of these recommendations would automatically include adoption of the Precautionary Principle, which essentially says do nothing if there is any perceived risk.
The study admits that the EPA would be required to forecast the future – which, of course, is impossible.
All of this comes in preparation for Rio+20 to be held in Rio de Janeiro this summer. It’s to be held on the twentieth anniversary of the United Nations conference known as the Earth Summit, where the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted, which in turn, led to the Kyoto Protocol and a continuing demand for cutting CO2 emissions.
Rio+20 is called the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.
The term sustainability is a catch phrase that means different things to different people. If it’s impossible to define, it’s also impossible to measure.
The EPA is already conducting a war on coal and is doing what it can to obstruct fracking. With a sweepingly defined sustainability added to its portfolio, the EPA will be in a position to control all aspects of energy development and use in the United States.
The NAS report is available at
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