The purpose of this conference is to explore “the relationship between environmental protection and public health and how it should inform our efforts to become better stewards of the environment.” No one would disagree with the assertion that during the last forty years of federal environmental protection, air and water quality have improved and led to concomitant improvements in human health. Exploring the contours of this “relationship,” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy said in her keynote speech that “[t]he thing is, the word ‘relationship’ is too neutral. The link between the health of our planet and the health of our families is inextricable. The quality of our environment dictates the quality of our well-being, and our lives.” An article in the New England Journal of Medicine—a publication aimed at clinicians and not public health practitioners or environmental regulators— affirms the Administrator’s assertion about the environment-human health relationship: based on four decades of air quality monitoring mandated by the Clean Air Act, U.S. life span has increased by 0.4 to 0.8 years due to government-mandated reductions in particulate matter. By setting human health-based standards prescribed by legislative language and then enforcing them, environmental protection has clearly improved human health by limiting the amount of pollution that may enter our natural environment. With this starting premise, our panel contributes to the conference discussion by focusing on the ethical underpinnings of why we enact laws to protect, conserve, and restore the environment. These environmental values, usually characterized as human-centrism, biocentrism, and ecocentrism, separate the human, fauna, and flora at play when making law to protect “the environment.” To debate whether the current public healthbased approach in U.S. environmental law strikes the right balance between protecting humans and the environment that surrounds us, our panel was specifically asked: “Should environmental laws focus even more than they already do on public health benefits, so that we might reclaim bi-partisan support for environmental protection efforts? Or have we focused on human health to the detriment of preserving bio-diversity and healthy ecosystems?”
Protecting Human Health and Stewarding the Environment: An Essay Exploring Values in U.S. Environmental Protection Law,
Mich. J. Envtl. & Admin. L.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mjeal/vol3/iss2/3