PrefaceThis Task Force report is one of seven prepared for the President's Council on Sustainable Development. The Council was established by President William J. Clinton through Executive Order No. 12852 on June 29, 1993, to:1
Members of the Council are leaders in industry, federal government, and environmental, labor, and civil rights organizations.
Shared responsibility for success was a hallmark of the eight Task Forces organized by the Council. Their purpose was to provide advice to the Council in major issue areas, spur dialogue, and involve the public. The work of Task Forces culminated in policy recommendations for consideration by the full Council. Individual Council members served on the various Task Forces, together with a network of several hundred professionals from throughout the country.
The eight Task Forces were: Eco-Efficiency; Energy and Transportation; Natural Resources Management and Protection; Population and Consumption; Principles, Goals, and Definition; Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education; Sustainable Agriculture; and Sustainable Communities. Each developed a work plan responding to the challenges posed by the respective sets of issues and developed recommendations through workshops, demonstratioin projects, case studies, regional round tables, public comment, and other methods.
The Task Force reports serve as a record of each Task Force's deliberations and contributions to the Council's deliberations. This report is intended to illustrate the lessons learned and advice that was prepared for the Council's consideration by the Energy and Transportation Task Force.
The Energy and Transportation Task Force expanded its membership beyond the nine Council members who participated to include 32 representatives of diverse and often divergent views on energy and transportation issues affecting the United States. Their diversity contributed to the richness of the debate as consensus was sought. In the end, recommendations were finalized using majority decisions. Therefore, not all recommendations and goal indicator levels were agreed to by all Task Force members.
The Task Force expected its ideas would be debated and further refined by the Council, and later with an even larger constituency of the public and governmental institutions. Although its work was extensive, for practical reasons the Task Force did not seek to provide solutions to all of the challenges associated with energy and transportation. This report is intended to help stimulate a national debate, not only among experts and policymakers, but with citizens who have not discussed these issues before...but who are critical to sustainable development.
Executive SummaryHowever, new strategies must be developed to make even greater progress in the next 25 years and continue the American tradition of increasing economic and other opportunities while improving environmental quality. The fundamental challenge of long-term energy and transportation policy is to create a future that simultaneously achieves greater economic prosperity, environmental protection, and social equity. Although these goals have often been cast as mutually exclusive tradeoffs, there is ample evidence that steps can be taken to promote all three simultaneously.
Just as economic activity is both the cause of and solution to many environmental and social problems, access to energy and transportation services creates immense economic and social benefits but also can have significant negative consequences. Changes in technology and economic behavior offer an effective way to reduce the environmental and social burden of energy production and use. Steps taken to encourage change should strive to promote overall prosperity, use the power of market forces when possible and appropriate, and provide a wide variety of affordable consumer choices.
The Energy and Transportation Task Force relied on a collaborative approach involving more than 30 representatives from diverse interests, including seven private sector companies, energy, environmental, labor and community organizations, federal, state, and local governments, and others. The Task Force was also at times augmented by other experts in various fields.
The members began their work by adopting a scenanos planning process to understand how energy and transportation systems might evolve. Four plausible scenarios were constructed as aids for evaluating the implications of potential policy choices. The Task Force reached the following broad conclusions.
Based upon the lessons learned from the scenarios, the Task Force crafted three strategic goals.
These broad goals are accompanied by the rationale behind them, as well as specific indicators of progress. The indicators serve to guide policy development and as yardsticks for measuring progress toward the goals. The Task Force made eight policy recommendations to achieve these goals.
Four policy recommendations tap the power of the market. Tax reform polices are called for to spur investments in clean technologies and meet environmental goals at less cost. Temporary market incentives are recommended to maintain the emphasis on energy efficiency during the transition to a competitive electric power market. Specific expansions of existing programs to purchase and scrap high-polluting vehicles are recommended to achieve more permanent environmental results and greater job opportunities.
A policy recommendation for performance-based regulatory flexibility is designed as a means to help achieve national environmental goals at lower cost.
Two other policy recommendations rely on community-based approaches. These are to remove federal barriers to market-based congestion management, and also to recognize potential home buyer's greater borrowing power in areas with easy access to mass transit.
The final policy recommendation highlights and recommends improvements to a group of specific federal polices already in place that are helping to attain strategic goals.
The strategic goals, indicators, and policy recommendations were debated by the Council members together with the work of the other policy Task Forces. The end result, after more than two years of intense debate, listening, and learning, was a consensus report by the 25 members of the Council to the President of the United States entitled Sustainable America: A New Consensusfor Prosperity, Opportunity, and A Healthy Environment.2 At the time of its publication, many organizations - ranging from state and local governments, to businesses, community groups, and Council members - and the President himself had announced plans to implement many parts of the report.
"The Earth belongs... to the living: ... No generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence."
No doubt Thomas Jefferson was referring to economic debts. However, the ideas he expressed--that one generation should not leave a debt for another to pay--is equally true when tied to environmental and social problems. The narrow and shortsighted decisions of today can leave future generations with fewer opportunities to achieve economic prosperity, mounting local and global environmental problems, and a widening gap between the rich and poor.
Although there are many encouraging trends today that these problems can be resolved, there are also signals for increasing concern. Some question whether this great and prosperous country will continue to fulfill the expectation that each generation of Americans should enjoy a better quality of life than the previous.
The World Commission on Environment and Development, the Brundtland Commission, defined sustainable development in its 1987 report, Our Common Future, as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."3 This definition was adopted by the President's Council on Sustainable Development and is very much in keeping with the values espoused by Thomas Jefferson.
In building on the work of the Brundtland Commission, the members of the Council and the Energy and Transportation Task Force also explicitly recognized that economic prosperity, environmental protection, and social equity must be pursued simultaneously. Although these goals have often been viewed as competing tradeoffs, there is ample evidence that these objectives are in fact interrelated. The economic growth and environmental improvement over the past 25 years are clear evidence that one need not come at the expense of another. These interrelationships are equally true in long-term energy and transportation policy.
Although technology and policy have made great progress in the effort to reduce human impact on the natural world, scientists and policymakers are only beginning to measure and understand the scale of the fundamental changes driven by technology, a growing population, and a highly competitive and globally interconnected economy. In all of human history, no period of time can match the changes currently occurring in the global environment.
Economic activity is both the cause of and solution to many environmental and social problems. On one hand, it can generate waste and pollution and contribute to environmental deterioration, as well as create health risks that disproportionately affect certain segments of society. Nonetheless, a robust and prosperous economy is essential to creating jobs and material goods for a growing population. It provides people with the opportunity to meet their physical needs and fulfill their individual aspirations. It generates the wealth necessary to make important investments in cleaner technologies and better practices to protect public health and the natural world.
Access to energy and transportation services creates immense economic and social benefits as well. Correspondingly, energy and transportation choices--by institutions in the public and private sectors, as well as individuals--have important effects on society. These choices influence the U.S. and global environment, the prices of the most basic goods and services, the international competitiveness of employers, the ability to reach important destinations, government deficits, and national security The decisions of today have long-term impacts in these areas.
Changes in technology and economic behavior offer an effective way to reduce the environmental and social burden of energy production and use and can frequently improve business performance. Policies designed to limit negative impacts should operate within the context of competitive markets and promote overall prosperity. Providers of energy and transportation services should have incentives to continuously improve their environmental performance and reap economic rewards for doing so while providing affordable services. Consumers of these services must have a wide range of choices and incentives that yield efficient patterns of energy use, which will maximize the overall social benefits of energy in an affordable and environmentally sound manner. Policy should focus on removing Institutional, economic, and regulatory barriers that prevent the nation from moving in these directions.
However, it is important to recognize the global context of energy and transportation issues in crafting strategies for the future. People in developing countries seeking to escape from poverty and high health risks aspire to the same kind of economic prosperity enjoyed in the United States and other developed nations. If these countries follow the same paths of development historically pursued by the industrialized nations they will reinforce many unsustainable trends, and possibly even undermine progress made by the United States and elsewhere in the world.
Collective actions--of individuals, families, communities, businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and all levels of government--can move the nation to a more sustainable future by recognizing the interrelationships between economic, environmental, and social challenges. Of the entire range of issues stemming from energy and transportation, the Energy and Transportation Task Force focused only on goals and policies that would simultaneously address all three challenges. (See figure 1.)
Nonetheless, policy recommendations generally can be only part of the solution. All change in society ultimately depends on the commitment and understanding of individuals. As a nation, we must foster individual and collective responsibility for the common good. We must improve access to information and opportunities, as well as the power they create. Progress will require the people of the United States to adopt stewardship in the broadest sense as an individual, institutional, and corporate value.
Chapter 1: Findings
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