Message to the Congress Transmitting the Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality

February 19, 1986

To the Congress of the United States:

I am pleased to transmit to the Congress the 15th Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality.

By most conventional measures of environmental quality, the air and the waters of the United States continue to improve as a result of the enormous national commitment to these goals that has come about since 1970. Likewise, we continue to be ever more careful stewards of our lands and their abundant natural resources -- wildlife, soils, minerals, fuels, and forests. We are moving aggressively to eliminate serious contamination of valuable land and ground water from the past mismanagement of hazardous wastes, and I have urged the Congress to reauthorize the Federal ``superfund'' program so that our momentum in this important work is not lost.

As the largest sources of environmental pollution have been controlled, and critical lands protected, our attention is drawn to highly specialized problems -- such as detecting and determining the significance of trace levels of chemical substances in the air, in surface and ground waters, in fish tissue, and in soils. Further progress in eliminating environmental pollutants wherever they are found to have significant impacts is leading to the control of larger numbers of smaller, more dispersed sources of potential environmental contamination, including small firms, farmers, and individuals. This trend has enormous implications, both in terms of the costs of removing such small amounts of pollution from such large volumes of the medium in which it is found, and because it seems to require detailed regulatory interventions into individual lives. Recognizing this, the Council on Environmental Quality's report documents and suggests a broader range of environmental policy alternatives that ought to be considered.

The policy recommendations contained herein are based on two fundamental propositions. The first is that the spirit, creativity, and personal drive of individual Americans will always be this Nation's greatest resource. It is the human genius that turns physical substances into resources, and human creativity in a free society is never exhaustible. Second, human institutions can encourage or constrain the ability of people to make the best use of their resources and to solve environmental problems. Rational policies that recognize and make effective use of economic incentives should help to improve the management of our environment and natural resources by stimulating new achievements on the part of the American people. Efficient use of the Nation's resources, guided whenever possible by free markets rather than centralized controls, will work to promote environmental health, economic productivity, and fiscal responsibility.

Some of the specific policies that follow from these perceptions are discussed in this report. They include enlisting volunteer efforts, long characteristic of this Nation, on behalf of parks, wildlife, and natural and historic preservation.

The Federal government's own activities should avoid adversely affecting environmental quality. This is now accomplished chiefly through the environmental impact assessment process. Another means to implement such a policy is contained in the Coastal Barrier Resources Act, which removed Federal subsidies for the development of these sensitive lands. Studies are currently underway to assess its effectiveness and to consider its applicability to other areas of critical environmental concern.

Efforts to create markets and to consider market-like management practices, which are being tried by Federal agencies in air quality and some land and water resource management programs, can be extended into other areas. A variety of successful State, local, and private market-oriented initiatives that have solved pressing water resources problems without Federal funds is documented in this report. And on the public lands, proposed user fee revenues would be invested in maintaining facilities that personally benefit recreationists and others, so that only the real public benefits would be paid by the taxpayer.

Finally, environmental protection regulations should be fashioned so that innovation and the substitution of progressively safer new products and technologies for old ones are not inhibited, especially where risk reduction or increased benefits will be the likely result. We must be alert lest government restrictions, however benevolently aimed at protecting the public as a whole, begin to hamper the creativity and productivity of entrepreneurs and other individuals who also can bring about social advances.

This Administration is dedicated to promoting conservation and stewardship. Conservation means the efficient use of natural resources. Stewardship entails a love of the land and a determination to pass onto future generations a high quality environment suitable for human living. A strong nation is one that is loved by its people and, as Edmund Burke put it, for a country to be loved it ought to be lovely. The ideas of conservation and stewardship suggest also that economic productivity is not a proper end in itself, but is only a means to the end of improved lives for all Americans. Riches alone do not guarantee the maintenance of a social order in which people can take pride.

But conservation and stewardship should never come to mean opposition to change through the fear that new development will more likely bring personal decline than social advance. The discomforts of change will be more than compensated by the benefits of a dynamic economy, in securing opportunity for new generations and in rewarding individual enterprise and initiative. A society of rising accomplishment and enhanced expectations will provide a better life for its people: a cleaner environment, and improved health and nutrition, superior educational, cultural, and recreational opportunities.

Inspired by promise, sustained by hope, past generations of Americans built a free and prosperous Nation based upon the principles of individual initiative and personal responsibility and upon private institutions of many types. They worked to turn our abundant natural resources to productive use and they learned to love their new land with its grand vistas, its mountains and forests, its fertile fields, and its bustling cities. Environment and natural resources policy can be used to help further these ideals so that liberty, prosperity, and a beautiful and healthful natural environment will continue to bless the lives of the American people. Then surely our good times will not have passed; indeed, our best days will be yet to come.

Ronald Reagan
The White House,
February 19, 1986.