Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Paul Newton's view on Environmental Regulations

PHS 100A Environmental Studies
October 24, 2011

During the second half of the 20th century, the U.S. became more densely populated and more driven by technology and heavy industry, which intensified resource consumption and environmental impacts. This began to cause more obvious damage to the environment in ways that directly affected people’s quality of life (Withgott & Brennan, 2010, p. 175). As the post-war baby boom generation matured, there was much activism that helped support environmental causes and called for policies to prevent pollution, save endangered species, and preserve wilderness, among others. As a result, a large number of laws to protect the environment were passed during the 1960s and 1970s. There has been much criticism of environmental regulation but it is useful to keep in mind its positive accomplishments that have benefited our society, as well as to scrutinize its performance to find ways to improve.

Take for example, the Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, which is the primary federal law that protects our nation's fresh water systems and coastal areas and was the first comprehensive water legislation passed by Congress. The benefits of protection, prevention and restoration under this law after almost 40 years are of great significance to quality of life in this country. Now administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), implementation of the Clean Water Act focuses on improving the quality of U.S. waters through a comprehensive framework of standards and technical and financial assistance. The EPA oversees requirements for municipalities and major industries to comply with standards for pollution control; the setting and implementation by states and tribes of specific water quality criteria; the provision of funding to states and communities to help them meet clean water infrastructure needs; and the use of a permitting process for development and land use to protect valuable wetlands and other aquatic habitats (Clean Water, 2010).

There is a good example of environmental regulation having mixed results in the state where I live, Oregon, where a government agency is very well-known for good and bad results: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). A division of the Department of the Interior, the BLM manages more Federal land than any other agency, most of it in the Western states including Alaska. This consists of about 245 million surface acres as well as 700 million sub-surface acres of mineral estate. The BLM is charged with land use planning to ensure the best balance of uses and resource protections for America’s public lands. According to BLM, they use a collaborative approach with local, state and tribal governments, the public, and groups of stakeholders (What We Do, 2011). The BLM develops Resource Management Plans to guide decisions for every action and approved use on the National System of Public Lands. Much of their work is in carrying out provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which requires federal agencies to make their decision-making process open to public review and to analyze and disclose the potential environmental impacts of their actions (NEPA Program, 2011).

In spite of its great objectives and apparent responsibility to uphold the best interest of the environment and the people, the BLM has been plagued by controversy and criticism for poor decisions and typical bureaucratic weaknesses and inefficiencies. One example is related to exchanges involving high-value public lands near rapidly growing urban areas. As demand in recent years inflated the value of public lands suitable for urban development the BLM, critics charge, failed to properly assess land that was traded in swaps, allowing developers to profit to the detriment of public interests (Public Lands, 2010). If the BLM consulted with experts on property values and looked at these swaps more carefully, they could do a better job of protecting the public interest and the environment at the same time. Another example of problems with performance is that the BLM is known for hassling private property owners for minor details while allowing bigger problems to pass.

Perhaps a cause of the failures in BLM’s performance is that it is given so much responsibility but has limited resources to work with. The BLM is supposed to ensure that proposed projects meet all applicable environmental laws and regulations, and to protect and make public lands available to citizens for “a wide variety of resources including energy, rights-of-way that support communications and energy delivery, a variety of recreational uses, and crucial habitat for species associated with the Western landscape, such as the sage-grouse and pronghorn antelope” (What We Do, 2011). This is a huge job, and yet, according to the U.S. Dept. of the Interior (123 STAT. 2904 PUBLIC LAW 111–88—OCT. 30, 2009, p. 2), the BLM’s 2010 budget was $960 million, which is under $4 per acre. In a 2007 report by the Dept. of the Interior, BLM had only 10,000 permanent employees, which works out to about 25,000 acres per employee (Facts About, 2007).

In conclusion, our government’s regulation of environmental use is necessary and has accomplished many benefits for the present and future of the country and its natural resources. However, perhaps due to the size of the task and the limits of funding, there are many failures and inefficiencies that leave much room for improvement.


Bureau of Land Management public land statistics. (2008). Retrieved October 24, 2011, from http://www.blm.gov/public_land_statistics/pls08/pls1-4_08.pdf

Clean water act enforcement. (2010). Retrieved October 24, 2011, from http://www.epa.gov/compliance/civil/cwa/

Facts about the Bureau of Land Management. (2007). Retrieved October 24, 2011, from http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wo/Communications_Directorate/public_affairs.Par.32462.File.dat/BLM_Quick_Facts.pdf

Public Lands Foundation. (August 8, 2010). Land exchanges of public lands administered by the Bureau of Land management. Position Statement: 2010-12. Retrieved October 24, 2010, from http://www.publicland.org/14_position_statements/PLF_2010_12_ land_exchanges.html

NEPA program. (2011). Retrieved October 24, 2011, from http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/planning/nepa.html

What we do. (2011). Bureau of Land Management. Retrieved October 24, 2011, from http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/energy.html

Withgott, J., & Bennan, S. (2011). Environment: the science behind the stories (4th ed.). New York, NY. Pearson Benjamin Cummings


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