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Bold environmental code becomes law in San Francisco today

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  • Deane T. Rimerman by way of STRIDER
    Deane T. Rimerman deane@efn.org earthfirstalert list - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/earthfirstalert List-Subscribe: earthfirstalert-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5, 2003
      Deane T. Rimerman
      earthfirstalert list - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/earthfirstalert
      List-Subscribe: earthfirstalert-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
      Tue, 5 Aug 2003 00:08:18 -0700
      [EF!] Bold environmental code becomes law in San Francisco today


      A bold environmental code becomes law in San Francisco today, one whose
      overarching framework is called the Precautionary Principle. Through it, San
      Francisco is taking a significant step away from the Bush administration's
      anti-environmental policies.

      The Precautionary Principle sets out to improve the way we make
      environmental decisions. While the Bush team asks, "How much environmental
      harm will be allowed?," in San Francisco, decision-makers will ask a very
      different question: "How little harm is possible?"

      San Francisco is a leader in making choices based on the least
      environmentally harmful alternatives, thereby challenging traditional
      assumptions about risk management. The 11 existing laws consolidated in the
      Environment Code have introduced more than 700 zero- or low-emission
      vehicles to the city's fleet, conserved 6,800 trees and more than
      half-a-million gallons of water each year by purchasing recycled content
      paper, cut toxic- pesticide use in half and protected worker health by
      designing buildings that use less energy and other precious natural

      We acknowledge that our world will never be free from risk. However, a risk
      that is unnecessary, and not freely chosen, is never acceptable. San
      Francisco's Precautionary Principle, enacted as part of the Environment
      Code, insists that environmental decision-making be based on rigorous
      science -- science that is explicit about what is known, what is not known
      and what may never be known about potential hazards.

      Unfortunately, in today's regulatory system lack of proof of harm is usually
      misinterpreted as proof of safety. In San Francisco, we want to create a
      means to take action despite scientific uncertainty about the degree of a
      given risk. Too often, regulatory agencies get stuck in "paralysis by
      analysis"; the new framework removes excuses for inaction on the grounds of
      scientific uncertainty.

      The costs of not taking precautionary action are often very high, as we've
      seen in the case of tobacco, lead and asbestos. Early scientific warnings
      about risks to health went unheeded by government agencies. As a result,
      billions of dollars have been spent to deal with the consequences of these
      problems. Costs include health care and health insurance, lost economic
      productivity, absenteeism, lost wages and cleanup. The Precautionary
      Principle process also requires decision-makers to consider possible impact
      to the local economy.

      Our Precautionary Principle calls for a careful analysis of a range of
      alternatives using the best available information. The goal of this process
      is to determine whether a potentially hazardous activity is necessary, and
      whether less hazardous options are available. For instance, our pesticide
      reduction program eliminated all of the most toxic chemicals used by city
      gardeners and identified less-toxic ways to solve weed and pest problems,
      some as benign as using goats to clear weed-choked hillsides or heat cannons
      to kill termites in walls. Science provides vital evidence for making these
      decisions. However, elected officials will ultimately use a combination of
      scientific data and judgments of what is necessary, useful and fair to make
      environmental decisions.

      Both locally and internationally, the public bears the direct consequences
      of environmental decisions. A government's course of action is necessarily
      enriched by broadly based public participation when a range of alternatives
      is considered. This concept of environmental democracy is deeply ingrained
      in San Francisco's Precautionary Principle.

      At the World Trade Organization, the Bush administration is fighting the
      European Union's right to restrict imports of genetically modified foods;
      beef containing hormones, and proposed legislation that would require some
      30,000 chemicals now in use to be immediately registered with EU
      authorities. The failure of the United States to adopt the Precautionary
      Principle is yet another way in which we are ostracizing ourselves from the
      rest of the planet.

      San Francisco's Precautionary Principle presents a historic opportunity to
      refocus environmental decision-making on reducing harm. In doing so, we are
      sending a message to Washington: The days of letting polluters and
      industries set our health and environmental agenda may be over sooner than
      you think.

      Jared Blumenfeld is director of San Francisco's Department of the
      Environment (www.SFEnvironment.com).

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