Will EPA shape the future?

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  • The U.S. EPA is about to confrontthe hardest environmental chal-lenge it will ever face, David Rejeskitold attendees at the agencys annu-al Science Forum in Washington,DC, on May 5. Rejeski is the directorof the Foresight and GovernanceProject at the nonpartisan WoodrowWilson International Center forScholars, and he contends that thetechnologies beginning to emergefrom what he calls the second in-dustrial revolution are so unlikewhat has come before that theagency needs to establish a HumanGenome-like program aimed at as-sessing their environmental, legal,and social implications.

    Such a program should have atleast a $30 million budget, saidRejeski, who initially gave his talk atan Office of Research and Develop-ment retreat. He also called on EPAto devote 4050% of its environ-mental research budget over thenext five years to shaping the tech-nological infrastructure that isemerging as part of this revolution.

    During his well-attended ad-dress on emerging technologies atthe Science Forum, Rejeski held upa Babolat tennis racquet made ofcarbon nanotubes as emblematic ofthe new manufacturing paradigm.How, where, and whether productsget made is changing, he said.

    These changes are enabled by theinterplay of new developments innanotechnology, genetics, and infor-mation technology, he said. As the

    technologies converge, they make itpossible for the industries usingthem to embrace an exponentialrate of change, he continued. Thereis enough biology in the mix to posethe question of whether things willmake themselves, he said.

    The new technology is alreadyaltering industrial waste productsand emissions, and it demands avery different response from EPA,he said. However, since the Con-gressional Office of TechnologyAssessment was closed in 1995, thegovernment has insufficient institu-tional mechanisms for coping withnew technology, he said.

    The idea of making protectivearmor from spider silk produced bytransgenic sheep sounds outlandish,Rejeski said, but Nexia Biotechnolo-gies Corporation is actively commer-cializing the technology. And expertsexpect that computer logic could beproduced biologically or chemicallywithin a decade.

    The future of environmentaloversight promises to be especiallycomplicated because of how thenew technologies are affectingwhere products get made, Rejeskisaid. They are becoming smallenough to transform manufactur-ing into a mobile, nonpoint source.

    We always believed we couldfind industry if we had an address.That will stop, Rejeski said.

    Environmental impacts have his-torically been the unintended con-sequences of technologicaldevelopment and design, but Rejeskicontends that a reactive approach onthe part of government regulatorswill become untenable as the pace ofscientific and technological progressincreases. Instead, regulators willneed to be proactively involved inassessing the environmental ramifi-cations of products while they arestill being designedand may noteven exist outside a computer.

    EPA will need to be able to inter-vene at a very early stage to avoid ir-reversible damages, Rejeski says.Otherwise, regulators are going tobe continually surprisedorshockedby what comes out, hesaid. KELLYN BETTS

    Will EPA shape the future?


    EU behind KyotoscheduleUnless two-thirds of EuropeanUnion (EU) member states take ur-gent action to reduce greenhousegas (GHG) emissions, they willmiss their targets under the KyotoProtocol, according to the Euro-pean Environment Agency(EEA). The Agencys figuresshow that Ireland, Spain, andPortugal are the least likely tomeet their targets; only Ger-many, the United Kingdom,France, Sweden and Luxem-bourg are on track. EU emis-sions rose in 2001 for thesecond year running, mainlybecause demand for heatingfuel increased during a particularlycold winter, transport emissionsrose, and more fossil fuels wereused to produce electricity. In2001, overall emissions were 2.3%below 1990 levels. The EU haspledged an 8% reduction from 1990levels by 200812. The EEAs canbe found at http://reports.eea.eu.int/technical_report_2003_95/en.

    Status quo stymiesenvironmental progressThe pace of market-based and in-formation-driven reforms to envi-ronmental laws has ground to ahalt during the Bush administra-tion, according to a recent reportpublished by the ProgressivePolicy Institute, a research thinktank in Washington, DC. Back tothe Future: How To Put Environ-mental Modernization Back onTrack criticizes the Bush adminis-tration for failing to replace com-mand-and-control regulationswith market-based ones. The re-port points to examples such asBushs abandoned campaign com-mitment of a cap-and-trade pro-gram for CO2 emissions, and thereluctance to move environmentaldecision making to the states. Thereport is found at www.ppionline.org.

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    David Rejeski directs the Foresight andGovernance Project, which aims to stim-ulate long-term thinking and planning inthe public sector.