The Evolution of Research on U.S. Environmental Policy
Abstract and Keywords
This article establishes a foundation for this book. It begins by analyzing the various phases and contexts of U.S. environmental policy and the literature. It then addresses certain problematic approaches in the literature. It identifies a so-called bias of environmentalism in many research approaches and publications, wherein scholars begin their work with a specific conclusion and frame their research in such a way, intentionally or not, that their results support that conclusion. An overview of the six parts of the book is also presented.
Environmental policy and politics today are clearly important for society’s well-being even if policy choices and their impacts generate considerable disagreement and controversy. Despite elaborate efforts by government and industry to control pollution emissions and conserve natural resources over the past 40-plus years, the United States and other countries face serious and in many ways growing environmental challenges in the twenty-first century. These range from protection of the nation’s and the world’s biodiversity to action on energy use, climate change, and the imperative of sustainable development. Proposed solutions have long been of concern to social scientists, policy analysts, business leaders, and policy makers because of their cost and impacts on society. As a result, we now have a thriving literature on the strengths, weaknesses, and promise of policy alternatives. This is particularly the case for environmental protection policy, long dominated by conventional regulation, where analysts have proposed and studied alternatives such as the use of market incentives, flexible regulation, public-private partnerships, and stakeholder collaboration (e.g., Cohen, Kamieniecki, and Cahn 2005; Durant, Fiorino, and O’Leary 2004; Eisner 2007; Fiorino 2006; Kraft, Stephan, and Abel 2011; Press and Mazmanian 2013; Rosenau 2000). Much the same is true for natural resource (p. 4) policy, where new approaches have been praised and, at least to some extent, have become the object of scholarly analysis (Fairfax et al. 2005; Layzer 2008; Lubell and Segee 2013; Sabatier et al. 2005; Weber 2003; Whiteley, Ingram, and Perry 2008).
Since the first Earth Day in April 1970, federal, state, and local governments have adopted dozens of major laws and hundreds of regulations intended to control pollution, protect natural resources, and foster sustainable approaches to economic development. New institutions, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have been created, and governments have assumed a wide range of new responsibilities. Social scientists, particularly political scientists and policy scholars, have written a large body of work that explores the various aspects of the environmental policy-making process and the role of a diverse set of policy actors and institutions—from organized interest groups and the media to government policy makers and the role of both natural and social scientists in the policy process (e.g., Durant, Fiorino, and O’Leary 2004; Klyza and Sousa 2008; Kraft 2011; Miller 2002; Vig and Kraft 2013). Respected scholarship traces the history and impact of environmental ideas and how they have been integrated with other social movements (Andrews 2006). An interdisciplinary literature similarly assesses the capacity of policy analysis methods and various public policy tools to address the environmental, energy, and resource problems facing governments at all levels and in different countries (e.g., Axelrod, VanDeveer, and Downie 2010; Bartlett 1989; Knaap and Kim 1998; Susskind, Jain, and Martyniuk 2001).
While most of the literature deals with environmental politics and policy at the federal level, increasingly research concerns state and local issues, policy processes, and institutions as well. Although not a primary focus of this book, global environmental problems (most notably, protection of the ozone layer, climate change, and common pool resources) and comparative analyses of politics and policy making between developing and developed nations (e.g., Harrison and Sundstrom 2010; Kamieniecki 1993; Selin and VanDeveer 2009; Steinberg and VanDeveer 2012; Tobin 2013) have also received much more attention in recent years.
This book takes stock of the environmental policy field and provides a broad and comprehensive review and assessment of the literature on U.S. environmental politics and policy. The field has grown substantially from its beginnings in the late 1960s, when it built on a rich but limited tradition of earlier analyses of conservation and natural resource policy (Caldwell 1970; Foss 1960; Ingram and Mann 1983; McConnell 1966; Smith 1966). With the expansion of government policies in the 1960s and 1970s and increasing interest in contemporary environmental challenges, from pollution control to forest management, political scientists and policy scholars have greatly expanded the scope and sophistication of research, and they have increasingly relied on major theoretical concepts and analytic frameworks from the discipline (for example, those related to agenda setting, interest group lobbying, policy-making processes, and compliance behavior) and have used the full range of social science research methods commonly employed today. Yet there is no single volume, encyclopedia, or edited collection that authoritatively brings together this impressive body of work in a way that can alert those entering the (p. 5) field to the most important topics that have been addressed, the most significant scholarship that has been produced, and the priorities for future research.
The modest efforts made in the 1980s and 1990s, such as the second edition of James Lester’s edited volume, Environmental Politics and Policy: Theories and Evidence (1995a), cover only a narrow set of these topics and are now sadly dated. The major goal of this book is to fill that gap by providing a comprehensive, in-depth investigation of the central research issues and concerns in environmental politics and policy, primarily within the U.S. political system. Another major objective is to provide researchers and policy makers with an extensive and rich source of the most current information available that can contribute to their knowledge and help guide their work in key areas of interest.
In selecting the topics to be covered in this book, we have identified the most important research areas in the literature and have solicited contributions from distinguished scholars. As a clear sign that such a work like this is desperately needed, nearly every researcher we invited agreed to contribute a chapter to this volume. Moreover, we are fortunate in being able to draw from our own scholarship in the field and from work over the past decade in coediting a prominent book series at MIT Press titled American and Comparative Environmental Policy. Although Oxford University Press was generous in affording us considerable latitude in determining the size of the volume, we are aware that we have not covered every area of research interest in the literature and that some readers may be somewhat disappointed as a result. For instance, much work has been done in the fields of political theory, comparative politics, and international relations that is not covered here due to space limitations. Future Oxford volumes may explore scholarship in the fields that we have omitted from the book. Most students of American environmental policy, however, will find this book extremely useful in their research on environmental policy issues in the United States.
As noted, the research areas identified here reflect a strong desire on the editors’ part to produce a book that will be helpful to scholars and students conducting research on U.S. environmental politics and policy. In an effort to meet this goal, contributors were asked to explain and evaluate the evolution of research in their fields of expertise. Specifically, we asked contributors to review the literature within their specified areas, assess its strengths and weaknesses, provide insights on the major agreements and disagreements among scholars, and identify gaps in the research that future analysts should fill. We hope that the end product is the most authoritative volume on the U.S. environmental politics and policy literature published thus far. Due to the critical nature of the topics selected within the literature, we believe this book will become the universal starting point for those embarking on research on U.S. environmental policy making.
This introductory chapter establishes a foundation for the book. We begin the discussion by analyzing the varying phases and contexts of U.S. environmental policy and the literature. The chapter then turns to addressing certain problematic approaches in the literature. The organization of the book is presented at the conclusion of the discussion. (p. 6)
1. Varying Phases and Contexts of U.S. Environmental Policy and the Literature
In order to understand fully the modern evolution of the literature on U.S. environmental politics and policy, one needs to take into account the political and policy contexts in which major studies were conducted. In most cases, the literature has sought to analyze particular environmental problems and policy issues and explain why major changes did or did not take place in environmental policy at a given point in time. Thus, a brief review of the political times in which studies were conducted contributes to a better explanation of how the literature developed. Since many studies were conducted in response to the adoption of environmental policies, we first examine the evolution of U.S. environmental policy over time prior to discussing how the literature developed. Mazmanian and Kraft (2009) have provided a useful way to outline the various epochs of environmental policy development, and we use that framework here.
In what is generally considered to be the first generation of modern environmental policy actions, in the late 1960s and early 1970s the federal government greatly expanded its role in the regulation of air, water, and land, supplanting what was widely recognized as highly variable and ineffective state regulation (Davies and Davies 1975; Ingram and Mann 1983; Mazmanian and Kraft 2009). The new style of federal command-and-control regulation was most evident in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972, both of which set the tone for further advances in environmental protection legislation throughout the 1970s (Vig and Kraft 2013). The prevailing belief at the time was that pollution was caused primarily by callous and unthinking businesses whose behavior was predominantly guided by the profit motive and could be changed only through federal regulation that would compel environmentally appropriate actions under the threat of severe penalties for noncompliance (Mazmanian and Kraft 2009).
The spurt of legislative initiatives, from the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund) of 1980, was driven by a sharp increase in public concern about environmental threats, as well as by expanded media coverage and extensive lobbying by newly organized environmental groups (Bosso 2005; Cohen, Kamieniecki, and Cahn 2005; Kraft 2011). While public health continued to be important, Americans were now beginning to become increasingly alarmed by the damage that was being done to the natural environment as well as the rapid exploitation of the nation’s (and the world’s) natural resources. Industry groups were unable to prevent these legislative enactments at either the federal or state level, although they did manage to limit their impact somewhat through provisions that required agencies to thoroughly justify their environmental quality standards and regulations and that permitted court challenges to such agency decisions. In some early cases, it was (p. 7) actually less costly to ignore the law and be fined than to comply with the regulation. This problem was soon corrected by legislators and regulators.
One consequence of the “environmental decade” of the 1970s was that business groups and their political allies mounted a vigorous and persistent campaign over the next twenty years to reform the regulatory process—in particular, to reduce the burdens and costs these new laws had imposed on industry. In Mazmanian and Kraft’s (2009) view, the second epoch has been characterized by efficiency-based regulatory reform and flexibility in environmental policy making. This second epoch of environmental policy began in the late 1970s but was most notable during Ronald Reagan’s presidency as the White House sought to curtail implementation actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sharply reduce the agency’s budget, and impose new cost-benefit tests for regulations, among other actions (also see Vig and Kraft 1984 and 2013 as well as Vig’s chapter in this book). But the regulatory reform agenda did not disappear with Reagan’s departure from the presidency. It was equally visible during George H. W. Bush’s presidency and during the 1990s as Bill Clinton pursued a range of reform measures, such as the EPA’s Common Sense Initiative and Project XL, to head off even stronger action favored by Congress. As Kraft (chapter 13, this volume) observes, the Republican takeover of Congress after the 1994 elections, the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and the Republican success in recapturing the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections strongly suggested that regulatory reform would remain a contentious issue for years to come.
Yet the legacy of some 30 years of regulatory reform efforts has been decidedly mixed. The centralized command-and-control policies of the 1970s remain largely intact despite the many experiments in regulatory flexibility, collaborative decision making, public-private partnerships, use of market incentives, and voluntary pollution control (Coglianese and Nash 2006; Dietz and Stern 2003; John 1994; Mazmanian and Kraft 2009; Press and Mazmanian 2013; Rosenau 2000; Vogel 2005). While the EPA under the Barack Obama administration increased controls on automobile emissions under the Clean Air Act, Congress once again failed to adopt a climate change policy directed at control of greenhouse gas emissions despite strong action on climate change within the states (Rabe 2004, 2010). As Below points out in her chapter, unprecedented levels of partisanship in Congress before and during the Obama presidency, however, prevented both the Democrats and the Republicans from changing previous major environmental and energy policy to satisfy their strongest interest group supporters and campaign contributors (Bafumi and Herron 2010; Klyza and Sousa 2008; Kraft 2011). Clearly, insufficient political consensus at the national level has prohibited any major alteration of the first generation of environmental policies. Even the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression at the end of the Bush administration and during the Obama administration failed to produce significant rollbacks in what many argue are costly environmental regulation and policy. The result is that a new layer of reform measures has been built on the foundation of the first generation of environmental (and resource) policies without substantially changing their goals or the means used to achieve them. (p. 8)
For this reason, business interests remain dissatisfied and continue to seek further reforms even as a third generation of environmental policies grounded in the concepts of sustainable development and sustainable communities has emerged (Kamieniecki 2006; Kraft and Kamieniecki 2007). This latest policy agenda encompasses a wide variety of private sector actions that are often described as voluntary “greening” of the corporation, although scholars are divided over the degree to which such voluntary measures have worked or are likely to work in the future (Cohen, Kamieniecki, and Cahn 2005; Harrison and Antweiler 2003; Kamieniecki 2006; Kraft and Kamieniecki 2007; Kraft, Stephan, and Abel 2011; Mazmanian and Kraft 2009; Potoski and Prakash 2005; Press and Mazmanian 2013).
In this third era we have begun to see and will continue to see movement toward “a more enduring and sustainable epoch in which concerns for the natural environment and how it relates to all other aspects of our economic and social worlds will play a far more pronounced role in policymaking” (Mazmanian and Kraft 2009, 11). Mazmanian and Kraft believe that “the transition will occur at widely varying rates and in different forms from one region of the nation to another and across communities” (2009, 11). Few would expect otherwise, even if environmentalists prefer a more consistent and coherent agenda for pursuit of sustainability. It is apparent, for example, that the term “sustainable development” has taken on many different interpretations and meanings in order to fit and often bolster a particular perspective or position.
Mazmanian and Kraft’s (2009) work categorizes the various phases of environmental policy development. Most of the literature parallels their three described epochs and reflects the evolution of environmental policy by including studies that anticipate policy development, analyze policy change, or investigate the economic and environmental impacts of policy change within a particular time period. Within this context Lester (1995b) reviews the historical evolution of the environmental politics and policy literature in the introductory chapter of his edited volume. He divides the literature into three periods of theoretical development: early work (1960–1977), growing maturity (1978–1985), and the contemporary period (1986–present).
According to Lester (1995b), the earliest phase of the literature was basically devoted to “consciousness raising” among those interested in environmental protection. He believes most of the writings during this era were “descriptive in nature” and included major works by natural scientists, such as Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962), The Closing Circle by Barry Commoner (1970), and The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich (1968). These and similar publications raised awareness among students and the public about the plight of the environment. Lester correctly observes that only a handful of political scientists and policy scholars contributed actively to the literature during this time period, although some of this early work clearly went beyond merely describing the problems to an increasingly concerned public. This was also a time when the subfield of environmental politics and policy was being defined and research needs set out (Ingram and Mann 1983; Nagel 1974), the first texts appeared (Davies and Davies 1975; Rosenbaum 1973), some of the earliest empirical work was being conducted and published (e.g., Jones (p. 9) 1975), and analyses of sustainability (Ophuls 1977; Pirages 1977) and population policy (Kraft and Schneider 1978) began to appear.
Lester (1995b) argues that during this era a major debate took place over the appropriate role of political scientists involved in the study of environmental issues. Some contended that political scientists should analyze environmental problems principally because of their serious threats to the global ecosystem and society at large and because solutions would require an understanding of the role of politics and government. Engaging environmental issues in this way would require political scientists to redefine the traditional boundaries of their discipline and also to develop at least some expertise in other disciplines related to environmental study, such as ecology or environmental science. However, others argued that political scientists should take every step to avoid blurring the boundaries of their field of investigation and seek instead to contribute to the growth of disciplinary knowledge. Many who advocated this position believed that political science researchers should strive to employ only scientific and professional goals and standards when analyzing environmental policies. As Lester (1995b) observes, this debate eventually shaped the next generation of research, which was primarily concerned with developing greater empirical understanding of environmental issues and policy-making processes through the use of disciplinary theories and methods of study. Nonetheless, even as scholarship turned increasingly to theoretically informed empirical studies, much of the expanding literature on environmental policy and politics sought to inform society’s continuing struggle to address mounting environmental problems. By 1978 political scientists had begun to contribute to a reservoir of accumulated knowledge of political attitudes and behavior, the functioning of governmental institutions, and policy formulation and implementation involving environmental and natural resource issues. This second generation of research was empirical (and less frequently descriptive) in nature, and it provided an increased understanding of the determinants of U.S. environmental policy (Lester 1995b). In addition, the focus of environmental concern broadened from air and water pollution and pesticide regulation to toxic waste and solid waste management, ocean dumping, and land use planning. However, while researchers acquired a deeper and broader comprehension of the empirical foundation of environmental politics, they tended not to explore the normative implications of institutional and regulatory failures in environmental policy making, with some notable exceptions (e.g., Ophuls 1977). Among other things, this became a major driver behind the third generation of the environmental policy literature.
According to Lester (1995b), after 1986 political scientists turned their attention to normative concerns associated with U.S. environmental politics and policy. During this time researchers were attempting to define the essence of the “environmental problematique” and, based on what they found, prescribed the appropriate solution (e.g., Milbrath 1989). In this vein, Michael Kraft (1992) argued at the time that this literature focused on “such basic questions as the nature and viability of modern industrial society, the structure of political and economic institutions and the effectiveness of their decision making mechanism, the ways in which political (p. 10) ideologies and paradigms affect our capacity to recognize and act on ecological problems, and how an environmental ideology or ethic might alter both personal and political decision making” (713). Paehlke’s contribution to this volume (chapter 5) explores the latter phenomenon in some depth.
Since the publication of Lester’s (1995b) book, the literature on environmental policy has continued to evolve and expand in various ways. For instance, while interest in federal environmental policy continues to flourish, there is now a greater focus on local and state governments and their approaches to improving air and water quality, acting on energy and climate change issues, and promoting sustainable communities (e.g., Betsill and Rabe 2009; Mazmanian and Kraft 2009; Mullin 2009; Portney 2012; Rabe 2004). At the same time, there is much more being written about environmental and natural resource issues in developing and developed nations, global challenges such as the depletion of the ozone layer and climate change, biodiversity, preservation of marine life in the oceans, forest conservation, and the development of sustainable societies (e.g., Axelrod, VanDeveer, and Downie 2010; Desai, 2002; DeSombre 2000; Harrison and Sundstrom 2010; Selin and VanDeveer 2009; Steinberg and VanDeveer 2012; Vig and Faure 2004; Young 2010).
Beyond these developments, studies at all levels of government have employed disciplinary theories and models in increasingly creative ways and have become more and more empirical, often incorporating highly sophisticated quantitative techniques in addressing current and alternative approaches to direct or command-and-control regulation (e.g., Kraft, Stephan, and Abel 2011; Sabatier et al. 2005). The field of environmental and natural resource economics also has quickly expanded and has significantly contributed to the policy literature (e.g., Cole 2002; Driesen 2010; Portney and Stavins 2000; Rothenberg 2002; Toman 2001). More generally, ideas and concepts related to governing capacity (see chapter 9 in this volume), government institutions (chapter 15), science and policy making (chapter 29), agenda building (chapter 20), citizen and interest group involvement and collaboration (chapter 23), environmental security (chapter 6), government regulation versus private markets (chapter 25), and assessment of various policy tools and approaches (chapter 28) are being closely studied by political scientists and policy analysts (e.g., Adger and Jordan 2009; Ascher, Steelman, and Healy 2010; Cohen, Kamieniecki, and Cahn 2005; Harrison and Bryner 2004; Kamieniecki 2006; Kamieniecki and Below 2008; Keller 2009; Kettl 2002; Kraft and Kamieniecki 2007; Kraft, Stephan, and Abel 2011; Layzer 2008; Matthew 2013; Miller 2002).
2. Problematic Approaches in the Literature
Although the literature now includes more studies that tend to be objective and balanced than ever before, with major goals of data collection, theory testing, (p. 11) knowledge accumulation, and learning, what might be called a bias of environmentalism still exists in many research approaches and publications. This kind of bias persists in various areas of study, from research on the role of business and elites in shaping environmental policy to analyses of the virtue of voluntary environmental regulation to investigations that assume that science and policy analysis should drive environmental policy choices. In many cases, scholars begin their work with a specific conclusion and frame their research in such a way, intentionally or not, that their results support that conclusion. Such writings may sometimes be entertaining to read and offer useful perspectives, but they also can fall short in describing the problem and what works and what does not in policy development and implementation.
One example of this phenomenon can be seen in the literature on “environmental justice.” A number of researchers, representing various disciplines in the social sciences, have studied the implementation of Superfund, the operation of the Toxics Release Inventory, and other environmental programs from an environmental justice perspective. Some of these scholars (e.g., Bryant and Mohai 1992; Bullard 1983, 1993, 1994a, 1994b) have been affiliated with the environmental justice movement and seek to demonstrate how private industry is more likely to expose people of color (i.e., African Americans, Hispanics, and other ethnic groups) than white people to dangerous pollutants. They also have argued that government tends to delay pollution control and cleanup actions in minority areas. Unfortunately, Bullard (1994a), a sociologist and a major figure in the environmental justice movement, and some other environmental justice researchers at times have purposely selected cases or presented other types of subjective evidence that support such conclusions: that is, they report that people of color are disproportionately exposed to toxic waste or toxic chemicals in every part of the country (Kamieniecki and Steckenrider 1997).
A number of the early studies on environmental justice also contained serious methodological flaws (Hird 1994; Kamieniecki and Below 2008; Kamieniecki and Steckenrider 1997; Ringquist 2006). Analyses by Bullard and some others, for example, tended to rely on isolated case studies based on anecdotal accounts of environmental racism, and they failed to present solid empirical evidence to demonstrate the existence of an intentional policy to expose minorities disproportionately at the local, state, or national level. In some cases the methodological flaws included failing to consider and correct for varying population densities (Lavelle and Coyle 1992). Merely conveying the percentage of minority residents in a particular community does not tell us how many citizens are actually exposed to environmental threats, let alone whether those threats were already present before large numbers of minority citizens moved into a given locality (Kamieniecki and Below 2008; Kamieniecki and Steckenrider 1997). In addition, many studies defined affected locations in geographic terms that are too large to permit careful examination of exposure to toxic substances. Previous studies based on state (e.g., Lester, Allen, and Lauer 1994), county (e.g., Allen, Lester, and Hill 1995), municipal (e.g., Greenberg 1994), or zip code areas (e.g., United Church of Christ 1987) were likely to contain “aggregation errors,” which can conceal exposure patterns. Using (p. 12) census tracts is better, since doing so provides more precision in determining location of people and hazardous waste sites.
Finally, a number of environmental justice studies have relied only on aggregate data to draw conclusions about individual behavior. Researchers who incorrectly generalize from one unit of analysis (e.g., state or county) to another (the individual) are said by statisticians to have committed an “ecological fallacy” (Kamieniecki and Steckenrider 1997). Attitudinal and epidemiological surveys based on scientific random sampling techniques and employing proper measurement procedures, although not without their problems, are a valuable source of information and should be employed to supplement aggregate data analysis.
Today scholars are expected to put aside their personal agendas and use the best theories and methodologies available to study environmental politics, policy, and outcomes without bias as to preferred results. Investigators are being strongly encouraged to select those theories and methodologies that most directly address central research questions and hypotheses. Nevertheless, although generally the field has matured and expectations now reflect the perspectives of scholars in the larger discipline, some studies continue to include various biases, and some are simply not as rigorous as others. The challenge looking ahead is to analyze critically important issues in environmental politics and policy by making the most appropriate use of theory and methods. In the end, such studies may offer more reliable knowledge than was previously available and thus might become more influential in informing policy decisions.
Partly because of such concerns, expectations and research standards today are much higher than in the 1970s even as a diversity of scholarly approaches are used. Some studies lend themselves well to rigorous study because pertinent databases and/or a sufficient number of different case studies are available. Yet there is still great value in using qualitative methods, particularly when the questions being explored are new and important and where little empirical data exist. Many important topics need fresh vision and exploration even if they cannot be studied rigorously. These include questions of new governance arrangements, proposals of new policy ideas, and descriptions of some new and intriguing developments, such as innovative policy making and implementation at the state and local level or new ways to promote stakeholder collaboration. Where a particular topic lends itself well to empirical inquiry, however, scholars need to employ the best methods possible and move beyond summary accounts and descriptive studies, and certainly beyond personal biases and political agendas.
3. The Organization of the Book
We have divided the book into seven distinct parts. The first contains the introductory chapter, and the last includes the concluding chapter. That chapter returns (p. 13) to the themes set out in this introduction, summarizes the contributions outlined in the various chapters, and reviews a number of key research directions for the future mentioned by contributors.
Part 2 addresses the evolution of environmental policy and covers major concepts, theoretical ideas, and policy changes that have been analyzed in the literature. The chapters provide a historical overview of the environmental movement and the development of public policies. They address the rise of green ideas in relation to politics and governing, including environmental ethics, environmental justice, sustainability, and environmental security. This section links these ideas to policy development through an overview of empirical studies on agenda setting, issue framing, and political discourse.
Part 3 includes chapters on a set of macro-level questions about governing capacity in relation to the magnitude and urgency of global environmental challenges, particularly those concerning a third generation of environmental problems, such as climate change and the quest for sustainable development. An advisory committee to the National Science Foundation (NSF) recently presented the challenges this way: “The world is at a crossroads. The global footprint of humans is such that we are stressing natural and social systems beyond their capacities. We must address these complex environmental challenges and mitigate global scale environmental change or accept likely all-pervasive disruptions” (Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education 2009, 6). The writings in this section present a broad discussion of how governments can respond and have responded to these challenges at the appropriate scale and in a timely manner. Contributors also examine how governments have addressed sustainability challenges, and what we know and what we need to learn about such challenges. Finally, within this context, the chapters offer an assessment of the U.S. leadership role past and present, notable actions and challenges, and the factors that affect U.S. policy making on global environmental issues. What can political science and public policy studies contribute either alone or as a component of interdisciplinary research to discussions and analyses concerning the major global problems we face during the new century?
Part 4 examines U.S. political institutions and policy-making processes, with special attention paid to institutional capacity, institutional development and adaptation over time, and policy innovation. More specifically, the chapters in this segment of the volume analyze Congress and environmental policy, including distinctive legislative processes and actors, and constraints and opportunities for policy making; the American presidency, leadership, and environmental policy; the courts, legal analysis, and environmental policy; the bureaucracy and environmental and natural resource policy; rule-making processes and public management, including deregulation and its effects on regulatory reform; state and local government and federalism; and multilevel governance and collaborative decision making.
The fifth part of the book evaluates the role of informal political actors, especially in regard to their participation in policy making and public education. Thus, contributors analyze the role of public opinion, public participation, interest groups, and campaigns, elections, and the media in educating Americans and in (p. 14) the policy-making process. Here, too, attention is paid to the implications for governing capacity and conflict resolution.
Part 6 provides an in-depth examination of a diversity of policy approaches and analytic tools and determines their potential contributions to policy making. The same advisory committee to NSF noted above urged the adoption of an integrated and interdisciplinary approach to achieve a better understanding of the complex and rapidly changing environmental systems and human activities that push them toward sometimes irreversible tipping points. The report also called for a new set of tools that can improve our understanding of these natural-human systems and help to communicate findings to the public and policy makers as public policies are developed (Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education 2009). As these tools continue to evolve, they merit careful appraisal in relation to governing capacity, their contribution to understanding the consequences of policy choices, and their capacity to address questions of policy effectiveness, efficiency, and equity. In response to this challenge, the chapters in this portion of the book address the role of science, political economy, market incentives, ecosystem management and restoration, environmental planning and impact assessments, and privatization, self-regulation, information disclosure, and other voluntary programs in environmental policy making. The use of quantitative economic analysis in the environmental policy literature is not covered in this volume because of its unique nature and because the subject demands much more attention than space allows. However, several individual chapters in this and other sections do draw on this literature.
In every case in the book, contributors were asked to explain and evaluate the evolution of studies conducted in their fields of expertise. In writing on these topics contributors were able to integrate a large body of scholarship that deals with a variety of substantive environmental problems, from pollution control and public lands to energy and renewable resources. We emphasize governing capacity, major theoretical ideas, political processes and institutions, and policy approaches and analytic methods as the best way to identify fruitful areas of scholarship within the discipline. At the same time, we encouraged contributors to illustrate their arguments with examples of substantive policy issues at appropriate points in their chapters. We hope that readers will agree that our approach to the difficult task of selecting the most critical topics and organizing the vast literature in this field has allowed us to produce a clear, comprehensive, and valuable assessment of important previous research on U.S. environmental politics and policy as well as opportunities to expand this research in new directions in the years ahead.
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