Campus News

Bowdoin Helps Progressive Policy Institute Build Clearinghouse of Environmental Efforts

Story posted February 27, 2003

Bowdoin students are assisting an effort to build a national clearinghouse of successful environmental programs, which could aid in the creation of new programs throughout the country.

The State Innovation Project is a two-year program organized by The Progressive Policy Institute and funded by the Joyce Foundation. The goal of the project is to highlight successful programs that reduce emissions and combat global warming and to encourage states and cities to create new environmental programs.

Alison Rau '04, Conor Williams '05 and David Parsons '05, along with DeWitt John, Thomas F. Shannon Director of Environmental Studies, are working with PPI on the project.

The federal government has been rolling back some environmental regulations, and those involved in the project hope it will encourage states to launch their own programs rather than waiting for the federal government to take the lead, according to Parsons.

Parsons began his work on the project by researching greenhouse gas registries, which provide a way to monitor greenhouse gas emissions and could eventually lead to trading of emissions credits. He is now studying the best examples of hydrogen fuel cell cars.

Rau began her work by researching wind farming. The students begin their work with brief summaries of programs in existence, called plays, and then use that as the starting point for their own, more extensive research.

"There's a lot of different things going on right now," Rau said of the programs, "and a lot of them are very exciting."

Williams's first project is taking some digging. He is looking specifically at what the new governor of Illinois, Rob Blagojevich, is planning in terms of new energy policies, especially those related to coal. Blagojevich is the first Democrat to be elected governor in Illinois in 26 years, and since he and his party are new to the office, there's not a lot of information out yet on what he plans for energy policies. Williams is contacting a number of non-profit agencies in Illinois and working with them to discern the direction in which Illinois might be heading.

John serves as an advisor to the project. He is well acquainted with the work of the Progressive Policy Institute and is a pioneer in civic environmentalism, a concept PPI supports. John coined the term in 1992 with the publication of his book on the subject. When environmental laws were passed in the 1970s, they attacked environmental problems from the top down: the government set standards and made people comply. John argued that this approach was not enough to solve environmental problems, and that there was room for a bottom-up approach. He urged state and local entities to get involved in instituting smaller scale environmental programs, and argued that they should be given the flexibility and the tools to do so.

"It's hard to regulate lots of small sources of pollution," John said, "and so you need more of a community supported approach to get everybody to clean up."

The federal regulations work well for managing large pollution sources, John said, and are the "backbone of the system." But people working on the local level often come up with better, more efficient ways to enact regulations, based on their specific situations.

"Civic environmentalism is a way of tapping all this energy at the local level, and in states and companies as well," he said.

In the past decade there has been an explosion in community based environmental efforts. John cautions, however, that civic environmentalism does not eliminate the need for federal regulations. "They're complementary," he said.

Williams, Rau and Parsons will continue to work on researching various environmental programs throughout the semester, and Bowdoin students will also work on the program next year.

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