This Task Force report is one of seven prepared for the President's
Council on Sustainable Development. The Council was established by
President William J. Clinton through Executive Order No. 12852 on June
29, 1993, to:1
- Make recommendatiaons to the President to advance sustainable
development, including a national sustainable development acation strategy.
- Expand public awareness of the challenges inherent in moving toward
sustainability, including the need to manage the nation's natural
- Institute a Presidential Honors Program recognizing exemplary efforts
that advance sustainable development.
Members of the Council are leaders in industry, federal government, and
environmental, labor, and civil rights organizations.
Shared responsibility for success was a hallmark of the eight Task Forces
organized by the Council. Their purpose was to provide advice to the
Council in major issue areas, spur dialogue, and involve the public. The
work of Task Forces culminated in policy recommendations for
consideration by the full Council. Individual Council members served on
the various Task Forces, together with a network of several hundred
professionals from throughout the country.
The eight Task Forces were: Eco-Efficiency; Energy and Transportation;
Natural Resources Management and Protection; Population and Consumption;
Principles, Goals, and Definition; Public Linkage, Dialogue, and
Education; Sustainable Agriculture; and Sustainable Communities. Each
developed a work plan responding to the challenges posed by the
respective sets of issues and developed recommendations through workshops,
demonstratioin projects, case studies, regional round tables, public
comment, and other methods.
The Task Force reports serve as a record of each Task Force's
deliberations and contributions to the Council's deliberations. This
report is intended to illustrate the lessons learned and advice that was
prepared for the Council's consideration by the Energy and Transportation
The Energy and Transportation Task Force expanded its membership beyond
the nine Council members who participated to include 32 representatives
of diverse and often divergent views on energy and transportation issues
affecting the United States. Their diversity contributed to the richness
of the debate as consensus was sought. In the end, recommendations were
finalized using majority decisions. Therefore, not all recommendations
and goal indicator levels were agreed to by all Task Force members.
The Task Force expected its ideas would be debated and further refined by
the Council, and later with an even larger constituency of the public and
governmental institutions. Although its work was extensive, for practical
reasons the Task Force did not seek to provide solutions to all of the
challenges associated with energy and transportation. This report is
intended to help stimulate a national debate, not only among experts and
policymakers, but with citizens who have not discussed these issues
before...but who are critical to sustainable development.
However, new strategies must be developed to make even greater progress
in the next 25 years and continue the American tradition of increasing
economic and other opportunities while improving environmental quality.
The fundamental challenge of long-term energy and transportation policy
is to create a future that simultaneously achieves greater economic
prosperity, environmental protection, and social equity. Although these
goals have often been cast as mutually exclusive tradeoffs, there is ample
evidence that steps can be taken to promote all three simultaneously.
Just as economic activity is both the cause of and solution to many
environmental and social problems, access to energy and transportation
services creates immense economic and social benefits but also can have
significant negative consequences. Changes in technology and
economic behavior offer an effective way to reduce the environmental and
social burden of energy production and use. Steps taken to encourage
change should strive to promote overall prosperity, use the power of
market forces when possible and appropriate, and provide a wide
variety of affordable consumer choices.
The Energy and Transportation Task Force relied on a collaborative
approach involving more than 30 representatives from diverse interests,
including seven private sector companies, energy, environmental, labor
and community organizations, federal, state, and local governments, and
others. The Task Force was also at times augmented by other experts in
The members began their work by adopting a scenanos planning process to
understand how energy and transportation systems might evolve. Four
plausible scenarios were constructed as aids for evaluating the
implications of potential policy choices. The Task Force reached the
following broad conclusions.
- Despite measurable progress in enhancing envirom-nental quality, some
current trends are unsustainable; changes will be necessary to shift toward
a more sustainable future.
- A desire to achieve greater social equity will change the nature of
environmental protection and possibly constrain some options.
- There is value to preparing policies to avert or adapt to the threat
of a potential ecological crisis.
- Rapid technological advances may help achieve economic aspirations
and ecological goals, but may not by themselves adequately improve social
Based upon the lessons learned from the scenarios, the Task Force crafted
three strategic goals.
- Pursue economic, environmental, and social policies that encourage global
competitiveness and a long-term economic growth rate of at least 2.5
percent per year. Environmental improvements must be realized while
providing opportunities and income gains that are distributed broadly
throughout society and contribute to reducing poverty and inequity.
- Improve the economic and environmental performance of U.S. energy
supply and use while ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable
energy services and increasing the competitiveness of American business.
- Improve the economic and environmental performance of the US.
transportation system while increasing all Americans'access to jobs, goods,
services, and recreation.
These broad goals are accompanied by the rationale behind them, as well
as specific indicators of progress. The indicators serve to guide
policy development and as yardsticks for measuring progress toward the
goals. The Task Force made eight policy recommendations to achieve
Four policy recommendations tap the power of the market. Tax reform
polices are called for to spur investments in clean technologies and meet
environmental goals at less cost. Temporary market incentives are
recommended to maintain the emphasis
on energy efficiency during the transition to a competitive electric
power market. Specific expansions of existing programs to purchase and
scrap high-polluting vehicles are recommended to achieve more permanent
environmental results and greater job opportunities.
A policy recommendation for performance-based regulatory flexibility is
designed as a means to help achieve national environmental goals at
Two other policy recommendations rely on community-based approaches.
These are to remove federal barriers to market-based congestion
management, and also to recognize potential home buyer's greater
borrowing power in areas with easy access to mass transit.
The final policy recommendation highlights and recommends improvements to
a group of specific federal polices already in place that are helping to
attain strategic goals.
The strategic goals, indicators, and policy recommendations were debated
by the Council members together with the work of the other policy Task
Forces. The end result, after more than two years of intense debate,
listening, and learning, was a consensus report by the 25 members of the
Council to the President of the United States entitled Sustainable
America: A New Consensusfor Prosperity, Opportunity, and A Healthy
Environment.2 At the time
publication, many organizations - ranging from state and local
governments, to businesses, community groups, and Council members - and
the President himself had announced plans to implement many parts of the
"The Earth belongs... to the living: ... No generation
can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own
- Thomas Jefferson in a letter to James Madison, 1789
No doubt Thomas Jefferson was referring to economic debts. However, the
ideas he expressed--that one generation should not leave a debt for
another to pay--is equally true when tied to environmental and social
problems. The narrow and shortsighted decisions of today can leave
future generations with fewer opportunities
to achieve economic prosperity, mounting local and global environmental
problems, and a widening gap between the rich and poor.
Although there are many encouraging trends today that these problems can
be resolved, there are also signals for increasing concern. Some question
whether this great and prosperous country will continue to fulfill the
expectation that each generation of Americans should enjoy a better
quality of life than the previous.
The World Commission on Environment and Development, the Brundtland
Commission, defined sustainable development in its 1987 report, Our
Common Future, as "meeting the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet
their own needs."3 This
definition was adopted by the President's Council on Sustainable
Development and is very much in keeping with the values espoused by
In building on the work of the Brundtland Commission, the members of the
Council and the Energy and Transportation Task Force also explicitly
recognized that economic prosperity, environmental protection, and
social equity must be pursued simultaneously. Although these goals have
often been viewed as competing tradeoffs, there is ample evidence that
these objectives are in fact interrelated.
The economic growth and environmental improvement over the past 25 years
are clear evidence that one need not come at the expense of another. These
interrelationships are equally true in long-term energy and
Although technology and policy have made great progress in the effort to
reduce human impact on the natural world, scientists and policymakers
are only beginning to measure and understand the scale of the
fundamental changes driven by technology, a growing population, and a
highly competitive and globally interconnected economy.
In all of human history, no period of time can match the changes
currently occurring in the global environment.
Economic activity is both the cause of and solution to many environmental
and social problems. On one hand, it can generate waste and pollution and
contribute to environmental deterioration, as well as create health risks
that disproportionately affect certain segments of society. Nonetheless,
a robust and prosperous economy is essential to creating jobs and
material goods for a growing population. It provides
people with the opportunity to meet their physical needs and fulfill
their individual aspirations. It generates the wealth necessary to make
important investments in cleaner technologies and better practices to
protect public health and the natural world.
Access to energy and transportation services creates immense economic and
social benefits as well. Correspondingly, energy and transportation
choices--by institutions in the public and private sectors, as well as
individuals--have important effects on society. These choices influence
the U.S. and global environment, the prices of the
most basic goods and services, the international competitiveness of
employers, the ability to reach important destinations, government
deficits, and national security The decisions of today have long-term
impacts in these areas.
Changes in technology and economic behavior offer an effective way to
reduce the environmental and social burden of energy production and use
and can frequently improve business performance. Policies designed to
limit negative impacts should operate within the context of competitive
markets and promote overall prosperity. Providers of energy and
transportation services should have incentives to continuously
improve their environmental performance and reap economic rewards for
doing so while providing affordable services. Consumers of these
services must have a wide range of choices and incentives that yield
efficient patterns of energy use, which will maximize the overall social
benefits of energy in an affordable and environmentally sound manner.
Policy should focus on removing Institutional, economic, and regulatory
barriers that prevent the nation from moving in these directions.
Figure 1 - Dimensions of Sustainable Development &
However, it is important to recognize the global context of energy and
transportation issues in crafting strategies for the future. People in
developing countries seeking to escape from poverty and high health
risks aspire to the same kind of economic prosperity enjoyed in the
United States and other developed nations. If these
countries follow the same paths of development historically pursued by
the industrialized nations they will reinforce many unsustainable
trends, and possibly even undermine progress made by the United States
and elsewhere in the world.
Collective actions--of individuals, families, communities, businesses,
nongovernmental organizations, and all levels of government--can move
the nation to a more sustainable future by recognizing the
interrelationships between economic, environmental, and
social challenges. Of the entire range of issues stemming from energy and
transportation, the Energy and Transportation Task Force focused only on
goals and policies that would simultaneously address all three
challenges. (See figure 1.)
Nonetheless, policy recommendations generally can be only part of the
solution. All change in society ultimately depends on the commitment and
understanding of individuals. As a nation, we must foster individual
and collective responsibility for the common good. We must improve
access to information and opportunities, as well as the power they
create. Progress will require the people of the United States
to adopt stewardship in the broadest sense as an individual,
institutional, and corporate value.
Chapter 1: Findings
Table of Contents