A few weeks back I was contacted by the Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA) to meet with a small delegation of representatives from Serbia who were interested in learning about environmental regulations, specifically those that relate to solid waste and/or recycling. While I was to be interviewed by the delegation members, I think I learned much more even though I wasn’t asking the questions.  Here is a bit of background on the CCWA from their e-mail invitation:

The Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA) hosts international leaders from all over the world year-round. Each year the CCWA hosts over 400 foreign nationals to meet and confer with their professional counterparts and to experience America firsthand. The visitors, who are selected by American Foreign Service Officers and U.S. Embassies overseas, are current or potential leaders in government, politics, the media, education, the arts, business and other fields. This program is sponsored and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

Members of the delegation worked in the following areas:

  • Journalist reporting on environmental issues
  • Manager of an electronic waste recycler
  • Member of a trade association for chemical manufacturers
  • Manager for a public utility company
  • Members of Environmental Groups
  • Local Government
  • Green business consultant
  • Small business owner with recycling operation

What jumps out at me from the list above is that you have the same cross-section of organizations and individuals involved in environmental policy in the U.S.  Each individual is interested in representing their own constituents, business or advancing their own environmental principles. 

During the exchange I was asked to describe various regulatory challenges faced by businesses.  I was also asked, generally, about general attitudes of citizens toward protecting the environment or environmental issues.  Here are a few interesting observations or conclusions I made from the meeting:

  1. Management of Electronic Waste–  The delegation was interested to learn that there were no mandates requiring individuals or businesses to recycle electronic waste in Ohio.  I was pressed on this point several times by members of the delegation.  They thought it was interesting that any citizen could carry his old TV out to the corner to be thrown away in a landfill.   Here is Ohio EPA guidance encouraging recycling of electronic waste
  2. Used Tires-  While I think elimination of used tire piles is one of the biggest environmental success stories in the State of Ohio, the delegation provided a different perspective.  The laughed and smirked when told that an individual was allowed to accumulate 23 million tires on their property (Kirby Tire Pile).  For a country known for its sophisticated (if not overly complex) environmental regulations, it is somewhat odd this slipped through the cracks.  As a result, Ohio was forced to enact a new tax on tires and it took nine years to clean up the Kirby Tire Pile.
  3. Renewable Portfolio Standards–  I was asked to provide some pretty detailed information regarding Ohio’s Advanced Energy Portfolio Standard, including use of alternative compliance payments and renewable energy credits (RECs).  I was told that Serbia was working toward a RPS standard.  I thought it was interesting that a small European country was developing a very sophisticated energy program.
  4. Jobs and the Environment-  I was asked to comment on general attitude of the public on environmental issues.  Some were interested in understanding how those attitude vary depending on what state you called home.  Overall, there seemed to be general understanding among the delegation of the interplay between the economy and environmental regulation which challenged my perception those debates were less heated in Europe than in the U.S.  Just like in the U.S., I got the feeling there was a wide range of opinions within the room.  Those opinions can change with time as well.  As noted in CNN recent poll on attitudes of Americans towards the root cause of global warming.

Overall, some of my own perceptions or paradigms regarding environmental regulation were challenged.  It usually takes someone or a group of people from the outside to get you to re-examine your own perceptions.  I found it very enlightening even though I didn’t get to ask a single question.