WASHINGTON -The United States may have
no streams left that are free from chemical contamination,
and about one-fifth of animal species and one-sixth of
plant types are at risk of extinction, says a private
report on the nation's ecosystems.
The findings are in an ambitious study commissioned
five years ago by former President Bill Clinton and
released Tuesday by the H. John Heinz III Center for
Science, Economics, and the Environment.
The report tries to document in one place the sort
of statistics about natural resources that until now
were dispersed among several federal agencies, including
the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department.
But perhaps more important than any particular findings,
administration officials and lawmakers said, is that
the report for the first time proposes an objective
set of ecological "indicators" about the nation's environmental
health. The study offers 103 indicators but says completed
and adequate data is available for only 56 percent of
them. For example, the only national data on nonnative
or invasive species are for birds and freshwater fish.
"This report is, at one level, a road map of what
we need to do to gather adequate data," said Republican
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, chairman of the House Science
The Heinz Center plans to update its study every five
years. William Clark, a Harvard University government
professor who oversaw the mammoth project, said the
purpose was to "help raise the factual basis of the
debate" over difficult environmental issues.
"This report is going to mean a great deal for our
environment," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said
at a ceremony. "Environmental indicators are clearly
the tools that we need to do our job well."
Each year the federal government spends more than
$600 million collecting environmental data, but the
center's experts say that information still isn't comprehensive.
At the same time, those experts say, the government
spends billions of dollars on pollution controls and
cleanups: $120 billion in 1994, the last year for which
such figures are available.
Members of the center's team of 150 experts and others
compared the need for indicators to the role that factors
such as interest rates, unemployment, and inflation
play in helping gauge the economy. Environmental, industry,
government, and academic groups all participated in
the report's making.