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Economists Argue
What's Good for Environment
is Good for Economy

by Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
San Francisco Chronicle, December 4, 2003

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- A group of 104 economists, including two Nobel Prize winners, sent a letter Wednesday to President Bush and Western governors saying that policies that harm the environment also harm the economy in the long run.

"Those who promise that workers, firms and communities tied to environmentally harmful activities can avoid these pressures if only the environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, were set aside raise false hopes," the letter said. "Even if such laws were repealed, the costs of environmentally harmful activities will continue to rise and jeopardize the economic outlook for affected communities."

The letter said the economic importance of agriculture, logging, mining and commercial fishing have diminished steadily, both in terms of numbers of jobs and levels of pay. As the population increases, habitat for fish and wildlife shrinks and many native species face extinction.

"Reversing the trend becomes more expensive over time," the letter said. "As ecosystems are degraded, they provide fewer economically valuable services, such as cleansing the water in streams, and communities therefore must provide replacement services with water-treatment plants."

Government subsidies of irrigation, logging, livestock grazing and mining prop up activities that could not survive in efficient market conditions, the letter said. Artificially low costs for roads, water and pollution create false impressions of the cost of urban sprawl, according to the scientists.

White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said the Bush administration had a strong agenda for improving and preserving the environment.

"This administration is committed to improving our environment, our air quality and water quality, protecting our land and building on the progress made over the last decade," he said.

Drafting and circulating the letter among the economists spread across the nation was coordinated by Ed Whitelaw, a University of Oregon professor of economics and president of ECONorthwest, an economic consulting firm that has done work for environmental groups, and Ernie Niemi, also of ECONorthwest.

"It is precisely the policies we see threatening economic growth in the West that are promoted as stimulating jobs and income and so on," Whitelaw said in a telephone interview from his office in Eugene. "There is definitely a disconnect between the professionals who study this stuff day in and day out and those who are implementing the policies, even though each of the two groups purports to serve the same purpose, economic prosperity."

Among those signing the letter were Robert Solow, professor of economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and winner of the Nobel Prize for economics in 1987, and Kenneth Arrow, professor emeritus of economics at Stanford University and winner of the Nobel Prize in 1972.

Related Sites:

Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
Economists Argue What's Good for Environment is Good for Economy
San Francisco Chronicle, December 4, 2003

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