Protecting the Planet: A Job for Superheroes?

The task does seem Herculean. Nowadays, our profession is trying to guard the environment from the traditional sources of pollution along with the newly added burden of dealing with threats of terrorism. In order to deal with such challenges it helps to be prepared by looking toward the future. Since Superman wasn't available to help us with this issue, due to the unreasonable salary demands presented to us by his literary agent, we here at Environmental Protection have tried to use our best X-ray vision to explore what lies ahead in this new year.

Environmental issues in 2003 are already being shaped by numerous factors. The events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent bioterrorist acts have made it clear that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory authorities have to deal with the threat of terrorism while continuing to address, water quality, air pollution, hazardous waste management and other important environmental issues. An example of this is the move toward increased security for drinking water treatment plants. An anti-terrorism bill signed into law in June 2002 (P.L. 107-188) authorized $175 million for drinking water security activities, including vulnerability assessments.

Another development that is certain to have a big impact on environmental issues this year is the tectonic shift in political power to the Republican Party resulting from the 2002 elections. According to Competitive Enterprise Institute (, a public policy group dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government, a free market approach to resolving environmental problems is likely to be at the center of the agenda as the Republicans begin to exercise the prerogatives of unified government. Conversely, many environmentalists and Democrats fear that with the new balance of power, elected officials will press for revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and other landmark environmental laws.

Additionally, several environmental groups are concerned because there are currently 112 vacancies on the federal bench, giving President Bush an immediate opportunity to significantly shape the future federal judiciary. Released in July 2002, a study of federal rulings from the past 10 years found that a group of highly activist judges -- mostly appointed by former Republican Presidents Reagan and Bush -- has disregarded the norms of judicial conduct to shape a new judicial philosophy that threatens core environmental protections. Conducted by the Natural Resource Defense Council, Alliance for Justice and the Community Rights Counsel, these findings are detailed in the report, "Hostile Environment: How Anti-Environmental Federal Judges Threaten Our Air, Water and Land," which can be accessed at

After winning complete control of the U.S. Congress this past fall, Republicans are already starting to take steps to promote certain initiatives. Beginning this January, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) will chair the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in the 108th Congress. Inhofe is interested in promoting a comprehensive rewrite of the Clean Air Act (CAA).

Sen. Pete Domenici (R.-N.M.) will take over as the chair of the U.S. Senate Energy in January 2003. He has said that he plans to take up a new energy bill early during this new session and he intends to vigorously promote energy exploration on federal lands -- including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In November 2002, the Senate conferees reached a bipartisan decision to abandon efforts to pass a comprehensive energy bill (H.R. 4) by the end of last year's congressional session

In light of these important new developments, our authors in this issue present detailed examinations of the major regulatory, legislative, legal and business issues likely to dominate 2003 in the areas of air, water and waste. Turn to our "Executive Forecast" article to find out what our top environmental executives see happening this year in the environmental industry. In her article that begins on page 29, Sarah Klahn, an environmental attorney from Denver, points to emerging trends this year related to variety of water quality topics. Another environmental attorney, Bill Forcade, who practices in Chicago, focuses in his article on page 22 on several major developments related to air quality management. Finally, Steve Addleston, an environmental attorney from Atlanta, highlights significant legal issues concerning hazardous waste management and remediation (p. 34).

We hope our forecasts will help you deal more effectively with the coming events of 2003. Fortunately, you don't have to have a cape and superhuman powers to be a hero who protects the environment; all that's really needed is a sense of commitment and a strong work ethic. Every day thousands of environmental professionals like you, through your tireless work, contribute toward improving our air, water and other natural resources.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2003 issue of Environmental Protection.

About the Author

Angela Neville, JD, REM, is the former editorial director of Environmental Protection.

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