Environment is greatest success story of last 30 years, study finds

The improvement of the U.S. environment is one of the great public-policy success stories in 30 years, a new report says.

San Francisco, CA, April 17, 2001 — The vast improvement of the U.S. environment is one of the great public-policy success stories of the last generation, according to the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators 2001, released today by the California-based Pacific Research Institute.

The annual study examines data on key environmental indicators across the board. Environmental quality data for all 50 states and 100 U.S. metropolitan areas was also released today on the Institute's website (www.pacificresearch.org).

Public confidence in environmental quality remains pessimistic despite dramatic improvements nationwide in air and water quality, toxic emissions, and other significant improvements, according to Dr. Steven Hayward, director of the Center for Environmental and Regulatory Reform at the California-based Pacific Research Institute. Sensational media coverage may exacerbate misplaced public concern and divert public debate, a trend that appears to be recurring as California's energy crisis threatens to spread nationwide.

"Crisis sells papers, but the evidence shows that these positive environmental trends are almost certain to continue in the coming decade, the result mostly of improving technology and increasing local efforts," said Dr. Hayward.

Key findings include:

* Air Pollution: Since 1970, aggregate air pollution emissions decreased 64 percent. Over the last 10 years alone, nine major cities that historically have had the worst air quality have reported dramatic decreases in the number of days reaching "unhealthful" thresholds on the EPA's Air Quality Index, ranging from a 57 to a whopping 100 percent decline.

* Water Quality: Lake Erie was considered "dead" in 1970, but today 98 percent of the Great Lakes' shorelines have been assessed to be fully supporting for swimming and drinking.

* Urban Sprawl: Despite widespread media attention and public concern about "urban sprawl," only five percent of all U.S. land is developed. Pastureland, rural land, forestland, rangeland, cropland, and federal land account for 93 percent of U.S. land today.

* Toxic Emissions: Overall, there has been a 45-percent decline in toxic emissions since 1988, and the EPA continues to report a reduction of more than 1.5 billion pounds a year.

* Energy: The public may perceive California residents as energy guzzlers, but the state is the fourth most energy efficient in the country, behind Hawaii, New York, and Rhode Island.

Energy supply is abundant, but supply is distorted by artificial market constraints

The Index includes a special in-depth section analyzing energy supplies, and finds that artificial market constraints and a refusal to utilize supplies of fossil fuels have caused the current California energy debacle.

Conventional energy sources remain abundant and modern technology has made them cleaner than ever. The study also reveals that alternative energy resources pose their own environmental trade offs. For example, windmill generators in California alone kill 39 Golden Eagles annually, eight times the mortality rate of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

The environmental future: technology and local control

The study finds that positive environmental trends are likely to continue as a result of improving technology, market-based incentives, and local activism, which people tend to rate more highly than government efforts.

"For too long the commitment to environmental protection has been measured on the basis of growth of the EPA budgets, the number of enforcement actions brought, and the amount of fines levied," said Hayward. "The next 30 years of environmental progress will be led by local control, cooperative dialogue, and results-oriented technological and market-based innovations, rather than cumbersome bureaucracy and decades of litigation."

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