Economy, environment are linked

George Radcliffe

February 07, 1992|By George Radcliffe

PRESIDENT Bush has imposed a 90-day moratorium on environmental and other new regulations as part of an effort to stimulate the economy. This buys into the widely held notion that a strong economy and environmental protection are mutually exclusive.

A report from the Environmental Working Group, a project of the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies, rejects that premise. The report, "From Diversity to Unity: A Public/Private Partnership for Environmental Action in the Baltimore Region," argues that the region's economic strength is not in conflict with its environmental health; it depends upon it.

In an earlier era, economic revitalization of the Baltimore region might have depended on our port and the heavy industries that grew around it, but today it may well be the region's environment and physical beauty, and the quality of life they can provide, that will spark economic growth. Once viewed as a barrier to economic development, environmental protection is crucial to the region's economic vitality.

Among the region's chief assets are its rich and varied surroundings; it is time we recognized that this splendid environment is central to Baltimore's ability to gain new economic strength. In today's world of fax machines, computer networks, modems and advanced telecommunications, businesses can locate almost anywhere they choose. In order to bring them and their jobs to the region and to continue to attract tourists and conventions here, let's recognize the environment as an economic priority.

The Chesapeake Bay is at risk, threatened by the degradation of its tributary streams. To reverse the trend and protect this valuable resource, we need to make wise land-use decisions that direct development away from sensitive areas and protect the stream system's natural pollution controls, such as forests and wetlands. Failure to address the crisis in the bay will mean continued decline in commercial fishing and major damage to the state's recreation and tourist industries.

In data from 1987 through 1989, the Baltimore region ranked fourth worst in the nation in ground-level ozone, a severe air quality problem little recognized by Baltimore residents. The region has never been in compliance with federal ozone standards; it could lose federal funds if compliance cannot be achieved. If there isn't progress toward reducing ozone,

stringent controls could be imposed, which would scare away business.

We must forge a coalition among business and industry, state and local government and the environmental community to support environmental progress. For too long, progress has been hampered by conflicts among business, government and environmentalists, who essentially have canceled each other's efforts and left us at a standstill. The Environmental Working Group, with membership from each of these constituencies, was formed to deal with these conflicts and to build consensus for environmental progress. Our report outlines the consensus we have built and will serve as the means for opening dialogue with a wider audience to build a broader consensus.

The Environmental Working Group shows it's possible for business, government and environmental groups to work together. Now we hope more people will become involved. Restoring and protecting the region's environment will be expensive, but allowing further degradation will prove even more costly.

Environmental and economic interests converge in this region. It's time to get together to work on our future.

George Radcliffe, former chief executive of the Baltimore Life Insurance Co., is co-chair of the Environmental Working Group, which is financed by the Abell Foundation.

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