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U.S., Soviet Environmental Officials Expand Cooperation

January 12, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. and Soviet environmental officials on Friday announced new areas of cooperation, including an international park spanning the Bering Strait, but private groups say the superpowers are not moving far or fast enough.

Acting under a 1972 agreement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its Soviet counterpart have expanded cooperation into 45 areas, including the exchange of information on scientific and regulatory issues, officials from the two agencies told a news conference.

Taking their cue from the United States, for example, the Soviets are ″developing a program in which unleaded gas would be banned″ by 1996 or 1998, said Valentin G. Sokolovskiy, deputy chairman of the State Committee on Environmental Protection.

William K. Reilly, the EPA administrator, said cooperation would include preparation for a conference on global warming proposed by President Bush at the superpower summit in Malta last month.

″We began the week with 37 projects and we ended with about 45,″ Reilly told the news conference. Areas of cooperation included:

-Remote sensing of atmospheric pollutants.

-Wetlands management.

-Historic preservation.

-Seismological monitoring, along the lines of an exchange of scientists that took place after the 1988 earthquake in Soviet Armenia and the tremor that shook San Francisco last October.

By the end of 1991 the U.S. and Soviet governments hope to form a jointly managed preserve on both sides of the Bering Strait that separates Alaska and Siberia, said an EPA spokesman, Sean McElheny. The plan stems from bilateral talks last September, he said.

For years, Soviet officials denied they had significant environmental problems, but the issue has been widely discussed under the reforms of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

The greater Soviet emphasis on environmental problems has lent new energy to official U.S.-Soviet meetings on the issue, of which the four-day session this week was the 12th.

Moscow’s new interest in the environment has created some stress in the official relationship, however, because the Soviet side included a representative from a recently formed non-government group in its delegation and the U.S. side did not.

The private Soviet delegate was Maria V. Cherkasova, of the Social- Ecological Union, formed in December 1988 as a consortium of some 120 groups in 260 cities and towns.

The Soviet environment is in a disastrous state requiring ″urgent attention,″ she said, stressing problems with children’s health.

″I feel that great movement has been made in the past year″ by the Soviet government to protect the environment, she told reporters after the news conference. ″But it seems that the American side does not realize the full extent″ Soviet environmental problems, she said.

During her stay, she said she formed new contacts with several private U.S. environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace International, the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club.

David Wirth, an attorney from the Natural Resources Defense Council, complained in a statement read at a bilateral session on Wednesday that the original 1972 agreement was ″underutilized.″

Wirth proposed U.S.-Soviet cooperation to curb emissions of carbon dioxide, which are widely blamed for a perceived global warming trend. And he said the two governments should monitor joint business ventures to ensure that U.S. pollutants, such as some pesticides, are not sold to the Soviets.

Wirth also complained that whereas Mrs. Cherkasova was on the official Soviet delegation, representatives of private U.S. groups had not been incorporated onto the American delegation.

The EPA spokesman, McElheny, said that U.S. citizens, such as Wirth and a representative of Greenpeace, were allowed to address the joint session, and that in the communique, ″both sides recognize the desirability of continuing participation by representatives of non-governmental organizations″ in bilateral meetings and projects.

During the news conference, it was apparent that the two sides were not yet ready to agree on joint actions to help solve many environmental problems.

Asked whether the superpowers agreed on means to counter the apparent global warming trend, Sokolovskiy said they were committed to further study to determine whether the phenomenon was due to natural or manmade causes.

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