"Such phenomena as global climate change, depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, mass extinction of plant and animal species, pollution of oceans and freshwater, proliferation of toxic substances, and unprecedented growth of population, present new and critical challenges to policy makers," testified Richard Benedick, chief U.S. negotiator for the Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion, before a House committee in May. He was speaking in favor of establishing a National Institute for the Environment.
Over the past couple of decades environmental activists have used findings from supposedly neutral government agencies to impose draconian regulations in response to those alleged crises. Now supporters of a new "independent" government agency are dragging up the same old bogeymen to justify the NIE, which will supposedly fund sound peer-reviewed environmental research.
The campaign to establish the NIE got a boost in June, when the U.S. Conference of Mayors endorsed the idea. The mayors believe that the new organization would allow local governments to have more influence over environmental policies.
But the mayors' group may be trading short-term political influence for more long-term regulation. Environmental groups supporting the NIE are largely responsible for promoting the regulations that soak local taxpayers. A Price-Waterhouse study commissioned by the conference estimates that environmental mandates will cost local governments $51 billion over the next five years.
During the May congressional hearing, supporters of the NIE made it clear that "environmental justice"–the contention that toxic waste facilities are disproportionately located in minority neighborhoods–would be high on the institute's agenda. Advocates of environmental justice would, for instance, take the siting of waste facilities away from local government and let federal agencies decide where a waste facility could be located.
Benedick's apocalyptic testimony suggests an alarmist agenda for the NIE. As Garrey Carruthers, former governor of New Mexico and chairman of The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, cautions, when you begin with assumptions about which environmental catastrophes need to be addressed, "then you have already gone beyond sound science and you are trying to justify your existence."