The United States has handed over the competitive edge in environmental technologies to some of its major industrial rivals by failing to invest more energy and money in so-called green technologies, a Washington-based research group said.
This means U.S. companies will fall behind their Japanese and European counterparts over the next decade, the World Resources Institute said in a report.
"The U.S. is going to lose its competitiveness, in our judgment, if they go the way they are going now with R&D," said George R. Heaton, one of the report's three authors, referring to research and development.
"We're not talking about losing market share now, we're predicting what's happening in the future. It looks like we're going to be behind tomorrow in an industry that's becoming increasingly important."
Released at the end of June, "Backs to the Future: U.S. Government Policy Toward Environmentally Critical Technology" examines the environmental technology policies of Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Canada and the United States.
The uncommissioned report broadens the definition of environmental technologies beyond pollution control equipment and consulting services to include any technology that will help clean up and preserve the environment.
To the report's authors, this means biotechnologies that can produce oil-eating microbes to clean up oil spills, processes to make aluminum cans that use less natural resources and new forms of contraception that help control the global population.
The report criticizes the U.S. government for not developing a cohesive industrial policy that targets environmental technologies that will improve the international competitive position of U.S. industry.
"The heart of the question is not how much is spent, but where it is directed and for what the planning efforts are targeted," said R. Darryl Banks, director of the institute's program of environment and technology.
Mr. Banks and Mr. Heaton testified June 26 before the Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, part of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, at hearings on new technologies for a sustainable world.
Mr. Banks said "green technologies" would benefit U.S. companies by helping them develop new "green products" that consumers want and by lowering their compliance and cleanup costs as they reduce their output of wastes.
The report does not include the amount each country spends on R&D for environmental projects, nor estimates of the volume of global trade in these technologies by the end of the decade.
"It's one of the follow-ups to this report: to pin down what the sales will be and what it costs companies to comply," Mr. Banks said.
A recent report by the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that trade in environmental goods and services will reach $300 billion by 2000.
The report says the United States has about 40 percent, or $78 billion, of the current $200 billion trade in such goods and services.