NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Missing: Environmental Statistics

September 26, 2002

Over the past 30 years the campaign to reduce air pollution has been a great environmental success story according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. But critics point out the EPA can't deliver the same comforting statistics when it comes to the quality of the nation's fresh water, oceans, farmland, forests or urban dumping grounds. In fact, the U.S. lacks scientific measures to gauge the state of the environment in dozens of critical areas.

  • Business and all levels of government spend $150 billion a year to clean the environment.
  • Of that, only $600 million is spent gathering statistics.
  • That's not enough to measure how much past efforts have paid off and what areas need the most attention, critics say.
  • Independent environmental analysts have complained about the lack of scientific data since the mid-1980s -- except for the elaborate air-quality monitoring system.

According to a report by the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, there are many uncertainties when it comes to EPA measurements:

  • The types and amounts of contamination in ocean and freshwater fish.
  • The presence of dangerous bacteria levels in waters along U.S. beaches.
  • How frequently forest fires occur today compared with centuries ago.
  • Whether contaminants in urban and suburban soil are increasing or decreasing.

The EPA is completing an ambitious review of the state of the environment due out later this year -- but admits its reports will have many blanks.

Source: Editorial, "Environmental Mysteries," USA Today, September 26, 2002; "The State of the Nation's Ecosystems: Measuring the Lands, Waters and Living Resources of the United States," 2002, Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.

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