The White House Council on Environment Quality has drafted new regulations that would require exporters ranging from nuclear fuel suppliers to highway builders to file impact statements before winning export licenses.
The drafted regulations would even cover loans made by such organizations as the Export-Import Bank for overseas projects. One example used by CEQ in explaining the new regulations is that if the Ex-Im Bank financed a piece of a coal-fired electric power plant in West Germany it might have to explain how the sulfur dioxide exhausts of the power plant would aggravate the problem of "acid rainfall" in Scandinavia.
The newly proposed rukes are supported by the Environmental Protection Agency, but have run into stiff opposition from other federal agencies. In fact, there is a fight brewing among the agencies over whether the nation's environmental laws can and should be extended to exports leaving the United States for other countries.
On one side of the fight is the CEQ and the EPA, having drafted the new export regulations. On the other side are most Cabinet-level departments that would have any involvement in exports, such as the Pentagon and State Department. Also on this side are smaller agencies such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which licenses nuclear fuel exports.
"We've suddenly been told we ought to worry about fish kills on the Rhone River," said one source in the NRC, "I don't know anybody who likes that idea."
The drafted regulations include at least three interpretations of the National Environmental Policy Act objected to by some federal agencies.
One states that the "human environment" referred to in the act "is not confined to the geographical borders of the U.S." A second says that agencies shall comply with the regulations if their actions affect the environment of "the global commons" such as the oceans or "if one or more foreign nations."
The third new regulation states that a federal agency will have to file what CEQ call a "foreign environmental statement" if an export license is sought that might be "unlawful" under U.S. environmental laws, that might "threaten" global climate or atmospheric patterns or that "may have inadvertent adverse effects on other foreign nations."
"An example of that might be if the U.S. funds, engineers or constructs a generating system in northern Europe that burns coal," said Charles Warren, chairman of the CEQ. "If the project means acid rain and snowfall for Scandinavia, we'd want to see a foreign environmental statement."
Another example cited by Warren was the Panama Highway, which was built in part with U.S., money and U.S. technology.
"If that highway were being built today," Warren said, "we might ask what the possibilities were of hoof-and-mouth disease migrating north toward the U.S. from South America along this new-highway.
The draft regulations were discussed at a meeting held Jan. 6 at the CEQ's offices near the White House. Present were the three members of the CEQ, staffers from EPA and legal representatives of federal agencies. Among the things the lawyers did not like were handed to them when they walked into the meeting.
"When the meeting ended they asked us to have our written comments back to them in 10 days," said one agency source who was present. "Don't worry, we'll have our comments ready. I can tell you that for sure.