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Commoner says environmental battle is being lost by EPA

WASHINGTON - Despite the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars to clean it, the environment is about as polluted as it was 20 years ago, says pioneering environmentalist Barry Commoner. "There is inescapable evidence that the massive national effort to restore the quality of the environment has failed," Commoner writes in his Making Peace with the Planet, to be published in April.

"The Congress has mandated massive environmental improvement; the EPA has devised elaborate, detailed means of achieving this goal; most of the prescribed measures have been carried out, at least in part; and in nearly every case, the effort has failed to even approximate the goals."

Commoner, 72, a biologist and an organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970, directs the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems at Queens College in New York.

Ruth Caplan, executive director of the group Environmental Action, agreed in part with Commoner's assessment but says "the environment would be much worse today if it weren't for the passage and implementation of the major environmental laws of the 1970s."

She said that the environment remains fouled because of a vast increase in polluting sources - in both cars and miles driven, for example - and because new problems such as global warming have arisen.

They have been caused in part by sources, such as carbon dioxide, that in the 1970s weren't viewed as troublesome.