Environmental Policy Brief Assignment

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PADM 550

Environmental Policy Brief Assignment Instructions


The purpose of this assignment is to apply the May, Can, Should model through analysis of a specific environmental policy. An effective tool for finding this legislation is through www.govtrack.us and the cost of the legislation through the Congressional Budget Office at www.cbo.gov.


For the analysis paper, this is best done in the following manner:


Application of the Biblical principles – when discussing the topic of the week, make sure to apply the Biblical principles discussed in question 1 of the Synthesis paper to the specific policy that you’re discussing. How does it meet natural law, inalienable rights, federalism, etc.?

Constitutional authority – what is the Constitutional authority for the federal government to get involved? Avoid the use of the General Welfare clause as it becomes a catch-all for anything that a politician wants to get passed.


Political feasibility – what is the likelihood that the policy will become law? What is the political and social support for the policy?

Financial feasibility – what is the policy expected to do to the national debt or spending? For example, the new COVID stimulus just put us another $2 trillion in debt but was widely supported by both politicians and the public.

Practical feasibility – what are the logistical resources needed for implementation (buildings, personnel, new programs, etc.) and what are the steps for implementation (ex; the Affordable Care Act needed functional websites in order to be implemented, the lack of these created severe problems with implementation). 


Relate this back to specific Biblical and Constitutional authorities and discuss whether or not the policy should be supported based on this and the feasibility of implementation.

The goal of this is to critically analyze an environmental policy to objectively determine if the federal government should be legitimately involved in the policy being discussed and if the policy is right for the country.

You are expected to submit a 1 1/2–2-page paper (not including the title page, abstract, and reference page) in current APA format in which the May-Can-Should model is applied in the context of the policy focus. Be certain to emphasize a focused analysis of a particular federal policy (either already implemented or proposed) chosen from the policy concentration area for the assigned module. You must include citations from:

1. all of the required reading and presentations from the assigned module/week

1. all relevant sources from Module 1: Week 1 and Module 2: Week 2 (you MUST use the “Biblical Principles of Government” article), and

1. 3–5 outside sources.
These sources should be focused on the problem and the piece of legislation, and you may find that you need more than just 3-5 sources to adequately research and discuss these items.

1. Please feel free to use link provided in the assignment resources for the purposes of additional research.

Please ensure that you review and follow the provided Policy Brief Template found in the assignment resources.

Note: Your assignment will be checked for originality via the Turnitin plagiarism tool.

Page 2 of 2

Chapter 11 Environmental and Energy Policy

PAGE 368 On the Friday after Thanksgiving in November 2018, the White House released the second volume in the federal government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment. A 1990 law, the Global Change Research Act, requires all presidential administrations to compile such an assessment no less than every four years. These reports are to provide important data on the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, and human health and welfare, among other topics. The first volume, released in 2017, documented how climate change was affecting the biophysical environment, and it formed the basis for the analysis reported in the late 2018 report.1

This second report, 1,650 pages long, was peer-reviewed by external scientific experts under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences as well as some three hundred scientists in thirteen federal agencies who contributed to it. It can fairly be described as the most comprehensive and authoritative scientific study of this kind to date, and it demonstrates well how such analysis might inform climate change and energy policy choices that we make today and in the future.

The report concluded that the nation must act aggressively to try to minimize what would otherwise be “substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being” that it said could be expected over the coming decades. It examined in detail the likely impacts of climate change within ten regions of the country, focusing on the effects on agriculture from rising temperatures, drought, and storms; damage to the nation’s infrastructure and coastlines, especially from flooding; multiple risks to public health; and the economy. It estimated that the nation could lose as much as 10 percent of its economic output by 2100, in part because of likely damage from severe storms, floods, and wildfires, much like those that in 2017 alone caused an estimated $306 billion in damages, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).2

Unlike many previous reports with similar findings, including those from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the National Climate Assessment unexpectedly gained widespread media coverage for weeks. In part, that was because its findings directly contradicted the stance on climate change taken by the Trump White House. Indeed, when reporters asked him about the report soon after its release, President Donald Trump said, “I don’t believe it.” His remarks prompted a noted climate scientist to respond that “facts aren’t something we need to believe to make them true—we treat them as optional at our peril.”3

One of those key facts is that global emissions of carbon dioxide, largely generated by use of fossil fuels, rose significantly in 2018 after several years of decline, driven by strong economic growth in the United States, China, and India. Emissions in the United States leaped by 3.4 percent, despite the nation’s commitment to lower them.4 In one response, the White House in early 2019 sought to establish an ad hoc group of federal scientists under the auspices of the National Security Council whose mission would be to counter the widely accepted scientific findings on climate change recently in the news. That action prompted climate scientists, a group of high-ranking former military and intelligence officers, and others to speak out forcefully against the idea.5

Climate change refers not just to “global warming,” or rising temperatures. It also includes other global and regional weather patterns linked to (PAGE 369) increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The effects of these changes include warmer oceans and increased moisture in the atmosphere; rising sea levels; increased severity of storms and greater risk of flooding; and prolonged drought in some areas that can lead to increased risk of wildfires. Less well recognized, there also are likely to be greater public health threats related to rising temperatures, worsening air quality, increased allergens, wider exposure to tropical diseases, and adverse impacts on the food supply and water resources.6 These profound changes already are producing significant effects throughout the world. Reports by the IPCC and many other scientific panels over the past decade have made clear that the problem is certain to grow much worse unless the United States and other nations sharply reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from burning of fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas (DiMento and Doughman 2014; IPCC 2018; Selin and VanDeveer 2019).

The National Climate Assessment and related studies arrived at an opportune time, as the United States and other nations, and the fifty states, continue to debate how they should respond to the challenges posed by climate change, widely considered to be the most important environmental problem of the twenty-first century. In December 2015, the world’s nations approved the Paris Agreement on climate change, an effort designed to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Centigrade (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above what prevailed in the preindustrial era. The Obama administration approved the agreement and took several significant steps to reach U.S. commitments under it to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. These included a Clean Power Plan that was to help phase out older coal-burning power plants and stronger vehicle fuel economy standards that would sharply reduce use of gasoline.

Acknowledging that a Republican-controlled Congress was unlikely to approve such steps, the Obama White House relied on administrative rules to put them into effect, particularly through regulatory actions by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As widely expected, the Trump administration, which took office in January 2017, sought to reverse Obama’s rules on climate change, although those reversals have been challenged in court.7 President Trump also announced prominently that the nation would withdraw from the Paris accord. In doing so, he demonstrated the continuing sharp partisan divide on these issues, especially at the national level (Andrews 2019; Vig 2019).8

Despite this dramatic reversal of federal actions, cities and states across the nation continued to develop their own public policies on climate change, as they had for years. Many of those are much stronger than federal policies and illustrate well the advantages of a federal system of government (Betsill and Rabe 2009; Karapin 2016; Rabe 2019; Selin and VanDeveer 2019).

For the purposes of this chapter, these recent reports and policy decisions underscore the strong relationship between energy and environmental policy. The energy Americans use and its sources—especially fossil fuels, which constitute nearly 80 percent of U.S. energy use—can have profound environmental impacts. Aside from climate change, these include oil spills on land or offshore, increased urban air pollution, production of toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes, and damage to ecosystems. Environmental policy itself, such as air and water quality regulations, can significantly influence the production and use of energy by setting high standards that can affect which sources of energy may be used and what they will cost. This is one reason why critics of environmental policy in recent years, including the Trump administration, have favored lowering those standards to promote increased drilling for oil and natural gas in offshore and other public and (PAGE 370) private lands and construction of oil pipelines such as the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline that was to bring Canadian tar sands oil to U.S. refineries in Texas.

This chapter describes and evaluates U.S. environmental and energy policies. It discusses their evolution, especially since the 1970s and 1980s, when most of the key policies were approved. Political disagreements over time and today center on the costs and burdens these policies impose on industry and the economy, the promise of alternative policies, and the potential for integrating economic and environmental goals through sustainable development in the United States and around the world. In keeping with our emphasis throughout the text on several core criteria for judging policy alternatives, the chapter gives special consideration to the effectiveness of current policies and to economic, political, and equity issues in evaluating policy ideas and proposals.


Environmental policy is not easy to define. As is the case with health care policy (chapter 8), its scope is much broader than one might imagine at first glance. Many people believe the environment, and therefore environmental policy, refers only to humans’ relationship to nature—which they see as wilderness and wildlife, parks, open space, recreation, and natural resources such as forests. Or perhaps they understand that much environmental policy deals with human health concerns; the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, for example, just as easily could be described as public health laws. The widely reported contamination of drinking water in Flint, Michigan, and many other cities around the nation with unsafe levels of lead reminds us of the public health focus of environmental policies.9

Environmental scientists argue that a more useful way to understand the environment is to see it as a set of natural systems that interact in complex ways to supply humans and other species with the necessities of life, such as breathable air, clean water, food, fiber, energy, and the recycling of waste products. To put it another way, humans are intimately dependent on environmental systems to meet their essential needs. People cannot survive without these systems but often fail to recognize their functions or to place a reasonable value on the natural services that almost everyone takes for granted (Daily 1997).

Many scientific reports in recent years also tell us that human beings are now so numerous and use nature to such an extent to meet their needs that they threaten to disrupt these natural systems and lose the services on which life depends, such as a reliable supply of freshwater and productive agricultural land. In the late 1990s, Jane Lubchenco, a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, observed that “humans have emerged as a new force of nature.” She argued that people are “modifying physical, chemical, and biological systems in new ways, at faster rates, and over larger spatial scales than ever recorded on Earth.” The result of these modifications is that humans have “unwittingly embarked upon a grand experiment with our planet” with “profound implications for all of life on Earth” (Lubchenco 1998, 492).

At the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit), delegates from 179 nations pledged support for an elaborate plan of action for the twenty-first century called Agenda 21 (United Nations 1993). It addresses environmental concerns by (PAGE371) emphasizing sustainable development, or economic growth that is compatible with natural environmental systems as well as social goals. The objective of sustainable development is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987, 43). Given the continued growth of the human population and the economic expansion that must occur to provide for the nearly 9.7 billion people who are expected to inhabit the planet by 2050 (up from 7.7 billion in mid-2019), that will be no easy task.

In September 2002, on the tenth anniversary of the Earth Summit, a new World Summit on Sustainable Development was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, and continued to define that challenge given persistent worldwide poverty, and in June 2012, the United Nations (UN) held a Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development to consider what additional steps should be taken in the twenty-first century. The box “Steps to Analysis: Sustainable Development in the United States and the World” suggests some ways to study and evaluate issues raised at the 2012 conference and after it, and it refers to similar sustainability initiatives taken by cities and other local governments that promote energy conservation and efficiency, use of renewable energy resources, recycling, water conservation, improved growth management, expanded use of mass transit, and similar actions (Mazmanian and Kraft 2009; K. Portney 2013, 2019).

By 2019, some members of Congress began touting what they termed a Green New Deal as a response to the challenge of climate change. It is a comprehensive set of ideas and policy proposals directed as sustainable development that is certain to be refined and debated extensively over the next few years. In addition, some Democratic presidential candidates for the 2020 nomination, particularly Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State, focused heavily on climate issues, and public demonstrations in favor of climate action, including many by students, have become more common.10

(PAGE 372) Steps to Analysis Sustainable Development in the United States and the World

Visit the web page for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Knowledge Platform at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/. Click on the tab for the sustainable development goals (SDGS), and then on any of the goals, such as No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Affordable and Clean Energy, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, or Climate Action.

What do you make of these goals? Do you see them as desirable or not?

Do you consider the goals to be economically or politically feasible?

How would you compare these goals to what most people are willing to consider or embrace as desirable directions for government or society today?

How do you think political conservatives would react to these goals? Would they see them as desirable or not? As giving too much power to government?

For an example of U.S. actions on the topic of sustainable cities, visit the websites for those communities with an especially strong commitment to sustainability goals, such as Seattle, Washington (www.seattle.gov/environment); Portland, Oregon (www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/67121); Santa Monica, California (www.smgov.net/departments/ose); New York City (www1.nyc.gov/site/sustainability/index.page); or Boulder County, Colorado (http://bouldercountysustainability.org). Go to the website for one of these cities or counties and read about what it has done to date and its plans to foster sustainability in the future. Does the community seem to have a clear understanding of and commitment to sustainability? Are its various actions consistent with its stated goals? Can you tell from the description provided on its website how well the city or county is doing in moving toward those goals?

Put in this broader context, environmental policy, both in the United States and globally, can be defined as government actions that affect or attempt to affect environmental quality and the use of natural resources. The policy actions may take place at the local, state, regional, national, or international level. Traditionally, environmental policy was considered to involve the conservation or protection of natural resources such as public lands and waters, wilderness, and wildlife. Since the late 1960s, however, the term has also been used to refer to governments’ environmental protection efforts that are motivated by public health concerns, such as controlling air and water pollution and limiting exposure to toxic chemicals. In the future, environmental policy is likely to be tightly integrated with the comprehensive agenda of sustainable development at all levels of government. Environmental policy will extend to government actions affecting human health and safety, energy use, transportation and urban design, agriculture and food production, population growth, and the protection of vital global ecological, chemical, and geophysical systems (Chasek, Downie, and Brown 2017; Vig and Kraft 2019). Almost certainly, environmental policy is going to have a pervasive and growing impact on human affairs in the twenty-first century.

To address these challenges effectively, however, policy analysts, policymakers, and the public need to think in fresh ways about (PAGE373) environmental and energy policies and redesign them as needed. Many existing policies were developed five decades ago, and criticism of their effectiveness, efficiency, and equity abounds. Not surprisingly, some complaints come from the business community, which has long argued that stringent laws dealing with clean air, clean water, toxic chemicals, and hazardous wastes can have an adverse impact on business operations and constrain the businesses’ ability to compete internationally (Layzer 2012). Others, however, are just as likely to find fault, including state and local governments that must handle much of the routine implementation of federal laws and pay a sizable part of the costs. Critical assessments come as well from independent policy analysts who see a mismatch between what the policies are intended to accomplish and the strategies and tools on which they rely (Durant, Fiorino, and O’Leary 2017; Eisner 2007, 2017; Fiorino 2006, 2018; Kamieniecki and Kraft 2013).

For much of the five decades that modern environmental policy has existed, it has often been bitterly contested, with no clear resolution on most of the major policies; energy policy has been similarly disputed. Piecemeal and incremental policy changes have improved some existing environmental programs, such as regulating pesticides and providing safe drinking water, but what remains is a fragmented, costly, often inefficient, and somewhat ineffective set of environmental and energy policies. During the 1990s, President Bill Clinton’s EPA tried to “reinvent” environmental regulation to make it more efficient and more acceptable to the business community and to congressional Republicans. For example, it experimented with streamlined rulemaking and more collaborative decision making, in which industry and other stakeholders worked cooperatively with government officials. The experiments were only moderately successful. Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, likewise proposed a “new era” of flexible and efficient regulation and a greater role for the states, but few experts thought Bush’s efforts were more effective than Clinton’s. Clinton and Bush preferred different kinds of reforms of the major environmental laws to make them more appropriate for the twenty-first century, but political constraints prevented both from realizing their goals. As discussed earlier, much the same was true during the Obama administration when Republicans in Congress sought to constrain the EPA’s rulemaking and to block efforts on climate change they believed to be unjustified, and during the Trump administration when House and Senate Democrats sought to rein in what they viewed as anti-environmental actions by the EPA, the Interior Department, and other agencies (Vig and Kraft 2019).

As this brief review suggests, environmental policy has reached an important crossroads, as have energy policies, particularly as it relates to the use of fossil fuels and climate change. More than ever before, policymakers and analysts need to figure out what works and what does not, and to remake environmental policy for the emerging era of sustainable development both within the United States and internationally. How Congress, the states, and local governments will change environmental and energy policies in the years ahead remains unclear. Much depends on the way leading policy actors define the issues and how the media cover them, the state of the economy, the relative influence of opposing interest groups, and whether political leadership can help to forge a national consensus.

Until policy breakthroughs occur, however, today’s environmental and energy policies are likely to continue in much their present form. Yet some of the most innovative and promising policy actions, rooted in the kind of comprehensive and coordinated thinking that is associated with sustainability, are taking place at the regional, state, and local levels, and they provide a glimpse of what might eventually be endorsed at higher levels of government (Klyza and Sousa 2013; Mazmanian and Kraft 2009; K. Portney 2013, 2019; Rabe 2019).

(PAGE374) The Evolution of Environmental and Energy Policy

Modern environmental policy was developed during the 1960s and shortly thereafter became firmly established on the political agenda in the United States and other developed nations. During the so-called environmental decade of the 1970s, Congress enacted most of the major environmental statutes in effect today. Actions in states and localities paralleled these developments, as did policy evolution at the international level (Axelrod and VanDeveer 2020; Chasek, Downie, and Brown 2017; McCormick 1989). Energy policy experienced a somewhat different history, but here too it has been considered in a comprehensive manner only since the 1970s (Rosenbaum 2015).

Early Environmental and Energy Policies

Although formal environmental policy in the United States is a relatively recent development, concern about the environment and the value of natural resources can be traced back to the early seventeenth century, when New England colonists first adopted local ordinances to protect forestland (Andrews 2006a). In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, conservation policies advanced to deal with the excesses of economic development in the West, and new federal and state agencies emerged to assume responsibility for their implementation, including the U.S. Forest Service in 1905 and the National Park Service in 1916. In 1892, Congress set aside two million acres in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming to create Yellowstone National Park, the first of a series of national parks. Many of the prominent conservation organizations also formed during this period. Naturalist John Muir founded the Sierra Club in 1892 as the first broad-based environmental organization, and others followed in the ensuing decades.

Following a number of natural disasters, most memorably the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt expanded conservation policies to deal with flood control and soil conservation as part of the New Deal. Congress also created the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933 to stimulate economic growth by providing electric power development in that region. The TVA demonstrated a critical policy belief: that government land-use planning could further the public interest.

Prior to the 1970s, energy policy was not a major or sustained concern of government. For the most part, it consisted of federal and state regulation of coal, natural gas, and oil, particularly of the prices charged and competition in the private sector. The goal was to stabilize markets and ensure both profits and continuing energy supplies. The most notable exception was substantial federal support for the commercialization of nuclear power. Beginning in the late 1940s, Congress shielded the nascent nuclear power industry from public scrutiny, spent lavishly on research and development, and promoted the rapid advancement of civilian nuclear power plants through the Atomic Energy Commission and its successor agencies, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Department of Energy (DOE).

(PAGE375) The Modern Environmental Movement and Policy Developments

By the 1960s, the modern environmental movement was taking shape in response to changing social values. The major stimulus was the huge spurt in economic development that followed World War II (1941–1945). During the 1950s and 1960s, the nation benefited further from the rise in consumerism. An affluent, comfortable, and well-educated public began to place a greater emphasis on quality of life, and environmental quality was a part of it. Social scientists characterize this period as a shift from an industrial to a postindustrial society. In this context, it is easy to understand a new level of public concern for natural resources and environmental protection. Scientific discoveries also helped. New studies, often well publicized in the popular press, alerted people to the effects of pesticides and other synthetic chemicals. Rachel Carson’s influential book Silent Spring, which documented the devastating effects that such chemicals had on songbird populations, was published in 1962, and for many, it was an eye-opener.

The initial public policy response to these new values and concerns focused on natural resources. Congress approved the Wilderness Act of 1964 to preserve some national forestlands in their natural condition. The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, also adopted in 1964, facilitated local, state, and federal acquisition and development of land for parks and open spaces.11 In 1968, Congress created the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System to preserve certain rivers with “outstandingly remarkable” scenic, recreational, ecological, historical, and cultural values.

Public concern over climate change. Los Angeles youth join a nationwide strike from school as they protest climate change and strike for the Green New Deal and “other necessary actions to solve the climate crisis” at City Hall in downtown LA. Protests of this kind have increased as public concern over climate change has deepened.

(PAGE376) Action by the federal government on pollution control issues lagged in comparison to resource conservation, largely because Congress deferred to state and local governments on these matters. Congress approved the first modest federal water and air pollution statutes in 1948 and 1955, respectively. However, only in the late 1960s and 1970s did it expand and strengthen them significantly. International environmental issues also began to attract attention in the 1960s. In his 1965 State of the Union message, for example, President Lyndon Johnson called for federal programs to deal with “the explosion in world population and the growing scarcity in world resources.” The following year, Congress authorized the first funds to support family planning programs in other nations (Kraft 1994).

These early policy developments were a prelude to a wholesale shift in the political mood of the nation that led to the present array of environmental protection, natural resource, and energy policies. Public opinion was the driving force in most of this policy advancement. Membership in environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society surged during the 1960s, reflecting a growing public concern about these issues. By the early 1970s, newer groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), were established, and almost all of them saw their budgets, staffs, and political influence soar. As a result, policymakers became aware of a concerned public that demanded action, and they were eager to respond and take political credit (Bosso 2005; Dunlap 1995).

Congress approved most of the major federal environmental laws now in effect between 1969 and 1976 in a stunning outpouring of legislation not repeated since that time. Policymakers were convinced that the public favored new federal regulatory measures that would be strong enough to force offending industries to clean up. In many respects, this development illustrates the kind of market failure discussed in chapter 1. The public and policymakers demanded that the federal government intervene to stop rampant pollution by industry that constituted a market externality. Most of the states also were constrained from acting. As we noted in chapter 2, either the states lacked the necessary policy capacity at that time, or they chose not to act because of pressure from local industry.

Eventually, Congress decided that only national policy action would suffice (Davies and Davies 1975). The development of environmental and resource policies during the 1960s and 1970s, therefore, grew out of the same factors that led to other public policies: market failures (economic reasons), a belief that government action was the right thing to do (ethical reasons), and the eagerness of elected officials to respond to strong public demand (political reasons). Table 11-1 lists the most important of the federal environmental laws enacted between 1964 and 2016. Comparable policy developments took place at the state level and abroad (Axelrod and VanDeveer 2020; Rabe 2019; Steinberg and VanDeveer 2012; Vig and Faure 2004).

(PAGE378) Policymakers also appeared to believe at the time that pollution problems and their remedies were simple. Few would make such assumptions today, because they understand the complexity of environmental problems and the difficulty of solving them. But in the 1960s and 1970s, policymakers and the public had more confidence that the chosen solutions would work. They thought that application of technological or engineering know-how would do the trick and that little or no change would be required in human behavior—for example, in using personal automobiles in urban areas or in creating far-flung suburbs (Paehlke 2013). These policy beliefs dominated legislative debates, although it was evident to some even then that the necessary technical knowledge did not always exist and that government agencies sometimes lacked the necessary resources and skills to take on the many new responsibilities mandated by these laws (Jones 1975; Mazmanian and Sabatier 1983).

On the one hand, these policy actions are a remarkable testimony to the capacity of government institutions to move quickly to approve major legislation when public and partisan consensus demands a policy such as pollution control. On the other hand, this history of policy development suggests why so many of these environmental laws later came under forceful criticism from business groups and conservatives,(PAGE379) and why economists worried about the cost they imposed on society, not to mention their limited success in reaching the ambitious policy goals they embodied (P. Portney and Stavins 2000).

Some thoughtful environmental philosophers offer a different perspective, which is more closely attuned to current concepts of sustainable development. They argue that environmental policies of this kind can never succeed if human population growth and material consumption continue and society’s institutions remain unchallenged. Mere reformist policies of pollution control and ecological management, they say, are doomed to failure because they do so little to alter human attitudes and behavior or to confront the economic and political systems that contribute to environmental degradation in the first place (Ophuls and Boyan 1992). In chapter 4, we referred to one of the dilemmas facing policy analysts—whether to deal with fundamental or root causes of public problems or to focus on the more manageable proximate causes. Environmental policies to date have dealt primarily with the latter.

From Consensus to Conflict in Environmental Policy

If consensus on environmental policy was the norm during the 1970s, by the 1980s political conflict became the new standard in policymaking. The shift in perspective had many causes, but chief among them were the conservatives’ growing concern about the strong role of government and its implications for the private sector, increasing doubts among policy analysts about the effectiveness and efficiency of the dominant command-and-control regulation, and the business community’s resentment over the burdens and costs of the new policies (Layzer 2012). Industry representatives frequently argued that the costs could not be justified by what they saw as the limited benefits produced in improved public health or environmental quality, and they sought extensive deregulation as a core component of environmental policy. These criticisms of environmental policy rose to prominence during Ronald Reagan’s presidency (1981–1989), reappeared under President George W. Bush (2001–2009), and in somewhat different form became a key component of the Trump administration’s environmental agenda (Durant, Fiorino, and O’Leary 2017; Fiorino 2006; P. Portney and Stavins 2000; Vig and Kraft 1984, 2019).

By the 1990s, a widening gulf divided the parties on fundamental issues such as the legitimacy of government regulation to protect the public’s welfare, the sanctity of private property rights, and even whether environmental problems posed a real and substantial risk to the public’s health and well-being (Vig and Kraft 2019). These differences were particularly evident in congressional voting on environmental protection and natural resource issues. Comprehensive analyses of voting records in Congress compiled by the League of Conservation Voters show that the gap between the parties grew from the early 1970s through the late 1990s, and then widened in the 2000s and 2010s (Dunlap, McCright, and Yarosh 2016; Karol 2018; Shipan and Lowry 2001). Clearly, the two major parties today no longer see eye to eye on environmental issues the way they did in the 1970s. The box “Steps to Analysis: Voting Records on the Environment” explains how these scores are compiled and points to the website where students can find the environmental voting record of any member of Congress.

(PAGE380) Major Federal Environmental Policies

Environmental policy consists chiefly of the many different statutes enacted during the 1960s and 1970s and their later amendments, but there is no single consolidated policy on the environment that describes the nation’s goals and the strategies needed to reach them. Nor is environmental policy concentrated in one executive department or agency; rather, at the national level, responsibility for the environment is divided among twelve cabinet departments and the EPA, the NRC, and other agencies. The EPA has the lion’s share of responsibility, but it must work with other departments and agencies, especially the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, and the Interior, to carry out its mission.

Steps to Analysis Voting Records on the Environment

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is a leading environmental organization. For almost five decades, it has kept tabs on how members of Congress vote on the environment. Each year, the group compiles the National Environmental Scorecard, which records members’ choices on ten to fourteen key votes. Go to the league’s website (www.lcv.org) to see a recent scorecard. You can view the full report as a pdf file or see the scores of individual members or state delegations as HTML files. Look up the voting records for one or more members of the House of Representatives and Senate from your state or a state you find interesting.

If using the full report, you can see how these votes compare to the average for the member’s state, the scores of the chair and ranking minority member on each of the leading environmental policy committees of the House and Senate, and each party’s House or Senate leaders. For 2018, Senate Democrats had an average score of 95 percent, while Republicans averaged 8 percent. In the House, Democrats averaged 90 percent, and Republicans averaged 8 percent. Why do you think the member you selected has the score he or she does? Does it reflect the nature of the constituency, the locally active environmental or business groups, or the member’s own political philosophy or ideology?

The LCV scores reported on the site represent how often a member of Congress voted in accordance with the position taken by the league and the coalition of environmental group leaders on which it relies to select an annual list of important environmental votes. Look at the votes the LCV selected in a particular year and the way it compiles the environmental voting score. These are described at the beginning of the full report.

(PAGE 381) Because so many agencies contribute to U.S. environmental policy, the best way to survey the subject is to highlight the major elements within each of three areas: environmental protection policy or pollution control, natural resource policy, and energy policy. Only one major statute, the National Environmental Policy Act, cuts across these categories. For each of the three categories, this chapter emphasizes the broad goals that policymakers have adopted and the policy strategies or means they use to achieve them. It also evaluates selected policy achievements and considers policy options for the future. Students who want a more complete description of the major environmental or energy policies should consult the suggested readings listed at the end of the chapter or visit the websites of the implementing agencies, where summary descriptions as well as the full statutes are usually available. The box “Working with Sources: Executive Agencies with Environmental Responsibilities” lists the websites for the leading executive agencies with environmental responsibilities and suggests how public policy students might evaluate the information they find at those sites.

The chapter focuses on national environmental and resource policies, even though, as noted earlier, some states, such as California, Minnesota, Oregon, and Vermont, often have been at the forefront of policy innovation. One of the best ways to compare state environmental policies is to visit the website for the Council of State Governments (www.csg.org) for links to all the state home pages. Those pages in turn describe environmental policy within the state. Another source for state environmental policy is the website for the Environmental Council of the States (www.ecos.org), a national nonpartisan association of state environmental commissioners that reports on a range of issues concerning state environmental policy activities and federal-state relations.

Working with Sources Executive Agencies with Environmental Responsibilities

(PAGE382) Visit one or more of the web pages of the leading federal environmental and natural resource departments and agencies to learn more about their missions, the laws they administer, the agencies and programs under their jurisdictions, and their programs’ achievements or shortcomings. The Department of the Interior, for example, includes the U.S. Geological Survey, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management. The U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service are parts of the Department of Agriculture. The Department of Energy (DOE) sponsors energy research and development and has broad responsibilities for cleaning up former defense installations, including heavily contaminated nuclear weapons production facilities.

All the agency websites have links to current programs and issues, studies and reports, internal organization issues, related programs at other departments and agencies, or White House positions on the issues. In interpreting information provided by these sites regarding program accomplishments, you should bear in mind that government agencies—federal or state and local—almost always offer a positive assessment of their activities and say little about their weaknesses or failures. At any given time, federal agencies reflect the views of the current presidential administration. As might be expected, during the Trump administration these agencies offer a distinctly different perspective than found during the Obama administration.

To find environmental and natural resource agencies at the state level, visit the website for the Council of State Governments (www.csg.org) and search for “state pages,” where all fifty state governments are listed. Once on the state government home page, look for agencies dealing with the environment, natural resources, or energy.

As you examine these pages, consider what might be the telltale signs that the agency is providing only one side of an issue or putting a positive spin on the agency’s achievements or current actions. For example, in 2016, the DOE site (www.energy.gov) described in very positive terms President Obama’s initiatives that were part of the economic stimulus package of early 2009 as well as expansion of renewable energy on public lands in the West. In the Trump administration, the emphasis within DOE and most other agencies shifted to favor fossil fuel development on public lands and deregulation of environmental protection.

www.doi.gov (U.S. Department of the Interior)

www.energy.gov (U.S. Department of Energy)

www.epa.gov (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

www.nrc.gov (U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

www.usda.gov (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

(PAGE383) The National Environmental Policy Act

One law that might appear to constitute a coherent national policy on environmental issues is the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). The enactment of this six-page statute signified the beginning of the modern era in environmental policy. NEPA acknowledged the “profound impact of man’s activities on the interrelations of all components of the natural environment” and the “critical importance of restoring and maintaining environmental quality” for human welfare. The instrument for achieving these goals, however, is procedural rather than substantive: the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS), which is then used in government agency planning and decision making. Such statements are required for major federal actions “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” They are intended to offer a detailed and systematic assessment of the environmental effects of a proposed action, such as building a highway, and alternatives to the action that might be considered. New guidelines now require that these statements also assess the impact of agency actions on climate change. Put otherwise, NEPA mandates that agencies engage in policy analysis before they make decisions. Its real effect, however, comes less from the preparation of these impact statements than from a requirement that they be made public. Doing so means that agencies must consider the consequences of their decisions and anticipate how critics of those decisions might respond.

NEPA requires only that such EISs be prepared and be subject to public review; it does not prevent an agency from making an environmentally harmful decision. Nevertheless, most evaluations of the policy find that it has had a substantial effect on decision making by government agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Army Corps of Engineers (Bartlett 1989; Caldwell 1998). In a way, NEPA symbolized environmental policy action during the late 1960s and the 1970s by establishing new decision-making procedures that opened the policy process to public scrutiny and ensured widespread consultation with affected parties, including environmental groups and local governments. The old subgovernments that we described earlier in the text had long dominated many areas of natural resource management such as logging, mining, and ranching, and they were forever changed because of these procedural requirements. For such a policy to work, however, the public and key organized interests need to remain vigilant, be willing to intervene in agency decision making, and have the resources to do so.

NEPA also created a presidential advisory body for environmental issues called the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The CEQ is charged with supervising the EIS process, and it works with executive agencies to define their responsibilities under the act. Many states have adopted “little NEPAs,” or NEPA-like statutes, with much the same purpose—to assess the likely environmental impacts of development projects such as highways. This is yet another reminder that states have considerable independent authority to act on environmental protection challenges, and as noted earlier, many have gone well beyond what the federal government has done (Rabe 2019).

Environmental Protection Statutes and the EPA

Congress has enacted and, over time, strengthened with amendments seven major environmental protection, or pollution control, statutes: the (PAGE 384) Clean Air Act; Clean Water Act; Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act; Safe Drinking Water Act; Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; Toxic Substances Control Act; and Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund). This is a diverse set of public policies, but they have much in common: the EPA develops regulations that affect the current and future use and release of chemicals and pollutants that pose a significant risk to public health or the environment.12

The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970 (CAA) required for the first time the development of national ambient air quality standards that were to be uniform across the country, with enforcement shared by the federal and state governments. These standards were to “provide an adequate margin of safety” to protect human health, and cost was not to be a consideration in setting standards. The CAA also set emissions standards for cars, trucks, and buses—the mobile sources of pollution—and it regulated fuels and toxic and hazardous air pollutants. In addition, it set emissions limits on stationary sources of pollution such as power plants, oil refineries, chemical companies, and other industrial facilities. The extensive 1990 amendments added acid rain controls and set new deadlines for improving urban air quality and controlling toxic air pollutants.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 (CWA) is the major federal program regulating surface water quality. Like the CAA, the CWA established a national policy for water pollution control. It set 1985 as the deadline for stopping the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters (a stipulation that allows federal jurisdiction) and sought to make all surface water “fishable and swimmable” by 1983. The act encouraged technological innovation and comprehensive regional planning for attaining water quality. And like the CAA, the CWA gave states primary responsibility for implementation, provided they followed federal standards and guidelines. Essentially, these involve water quality standards and effluent limits set by a permit system that specifies how much each facility is allowed to discharge and the control technologies it will use, but the act has been far less attentive to what are called nonpoint sources of water pollution, such as agricultural and urban runoff, which today are far bigger problems for surface water quality than point sources such as industrial facilities. For years, the CWA also provided substantial subsidies and loans to the states to help construct new wastewater treatment plants.

The Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act of 1972, which modified the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act of 1947, was similarly ambitious and limited. It required the EPA to register (regulate) the pesticides used commercially in the United States. The pesticides had to not pose “any unreasonable risk to man or the environment,” but the law allowed consideration of the economic and social costs and benefits of pesticide use. The EPA had to balance the benefits of using pesticides against their impact on public health, and the government had the burden of proof to show harm if it attempted to ban an existing pesticide. The pesticide control act was modified significantly by the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, which required the EPA to apply a new, uniform “reasonable risk” approach to regulating pesticides used on food, fiber, and other crops. The new standard is more stringent than the old one. In addition, the agency is required to give special consideration to the impact of pesticide residues on children and to set higher standards for these residues. The law gives the EPA greater authority to suspend a pesticide believed to pose a public health hazard, and the agency must review all pesticide registrations at least once every fifteen years.

(PAGE385) The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 was designed to ensure the quality and safety of drinking water by specifying minimum health standards for public water supplies. The EPA sets the standards for chemical and microbiological contaminants for tap water. The act required regular monitoring of water supplies to ensure that pollutants stay below safe levels, and it regulated state programs for protecting groundwater supplies that many areas use for drinking water. To assist states and localities in meeting these goals, the act provided loans and grants to defray the costs. A 1996 amendment established a flexible approach to regulating water contaminants based on their risk to public health and allowed consideration of the costs and benefits of proposed regulations. It also added a “right to know” provision that requires water systems to provide customers once a year with a report of any contaminants in the local water supply.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA) is the nation’s main hazardous waste control policy. The law was intended to regulate existing hazardous waste disposal practices and promote the conservation and recovery of resources through comprehensive management of solid waste. It required the EPA to develop criteria “necessary to protect human health and the environment” for the safe disposal of solid waste and to set standards for the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous wastes. The 1984 amendments to RCRA made the act even more demanding and set tight new deadlines, largely because the EPA had made insufficient progress toward the goals that Congress initially set.

The Toxic Substances Control Act, also approved in 1976, gave the EPA comprehensive authority to identify, evaluate, and regulate risks associated with commercial chemicals. The idea was to help develop a national database of chemicals posing an “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment,” but without unduly burdening industry or impeding technological innovation. Policymakers combined these two competing goals and saddled the EPA with a difficult and time-consuming set of procedural requirements that greatly limited the act’s effectiveness. After years of complaints, in 2016, Congress finally modernized the law and gave more power to the agency to act.

The last of the seven statutes, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, also known as Superfund, is perhaps the most criticized of the lot. It was enacted after the public became alarmed about toxic waste dumps, such as the one at Love Canal in New York. Superfund is directed at the thousands of abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites in the nation. Congress gave the EPA responsibility to respond to the problem by identifying, assessing, and cleaning up these sites. If necessary, the EPA can draw from a special (super) fund for that purpose, which is how the program got its nickname. The fund originally was financed through a tax on the petrochemical industry and other chemical manufacturers. One of the central principles of Superfund is that polluters should pay the costs of cleanup, and the act’s financial liability provisions have caused controversy for years.13

In 1986, Congress strengthened the Superfund act, put more money into the fund, and added an entirely new provision on the public’s right to know about toxic chemicals made by, stored within, or released through local businesses. The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is published each year and can be accessed on the EPA’s website and elsewhere. The TRI describes toxic chemicals that industrial facilities release to the (PAGE386) air, water, and land in communities across the country, and the information can be displayed on a local map that shows the location of each facility (Hamilton 2005; Kraft, Stephan, and Abel 2011). After 1995, Congress declined to renew the taxes on chemical and oil companies that support the Superfund trust fund, resulting in a slowdown of action on site cleanups and a shifting of the financial burden to the public through general tax revenue.

Common Themes in Environmental Protection Policy.

Separately and collectively, these seven policies created diverse regulatory actions that touch virtually every industrial and commercial enterprise in the nation. They also affect ordinary citizens by regulating air, food, and water quality, and the cars and other consumer products everyone buys. In other words, almost every aspect of daily life is affected by the way these statutes were written and how the EPA and the states implement them. It should not be surprising, therefore, that routine implementation of the policies and their periodic renewal in Congress usually spark contentious debates. People argue over the extent of the risks that citizens face, the appropriate standards for protecting public health and the environment, the mechanisms used to achieve these standards, and how the benefits of these policies should be weighed against the costs of compliance and other social and economic values. The box “Working with Sources: Environmental Policy Advocacy” lists some of the environmental and industry groups that have been active in these policy debates. Their websites are included as well.

These disagreements put the EPA, whether fairly or not, at the center of fractious political fights. The agency is a frequent target of criticism by members of Congress, the business community, and environmental groups, all of whom often fault its scientific research and regulatory decision making (Andrews 2019; Rosenbaum 2013). The EPA is an independent executive agency, but its administrator reports directly to the president, and its decision making tends to reflect White House priorities. The agency is the largest of the federal regulatory agencies, with a staff of about fourteen thousand people and a budget in 2019 of about $8.8 billion. By most accounts, the EPA handles its job well and is among the most professional of the federal environmental agencies. Policy analysts have long observed, however, that the EPA’s resources are insufficient to handle its vast responsibilities, and that was before recent budget and staff cuts. They have also concluded that to succeed at its demanding tasks, the agency must adopt new policy approaches and work with Congress to ensure that it has the authority and tools it needs (Durant, Fiorino, and O’Leary 2017; Fiorino 2006; Vig and Kraft 2019).

(PAGE387) Working with Sources Environmental Policy Advocacy

Many organizations play an active role in shaping environmental policy in Congress, federal executive agencies, federal courts, and state and local governments. To learn more about what positions they take and what they do, visit some of the following websites. We list environmental groups first and then several groups that tend to oppose the environmentalist position. Comparable groups are involved at state, local, and regional levels, and you might try the same exercise in these locales for advocacy organizations.

Environmental Groups

www.edf.org (Environmental Defense Fund)

www.nrdc.org (Natural Resources Defense Council)

www.nwf.org (National Wildlife Federation)

www.sierraclub.org (Sierra Club)

Industry Groups

www.nam.org (National Association of Manufacturers)

www.nfib.com (National Federation of Independent Business)

www.uschamber.com (U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

The core environmental protection policies have over time produced substantial and well-documented environmental and health benefits, which are especially evident in dramatically improved urban air quality and control of point sources of water pollution. Not every policy has been equally effective, however, and those dealing with control of toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes have been among the least successful. Moreover, existing policies barely touch some substantial environmental risks, such as indoor air pollution, even though the cost of these policies has been relatively high. By the late 1990s, for example, the EPA put the continuing cost to both government and the private sector at more than $170 billion per year, and by most estimates, more than half of that cost is paid by the private sector, which in most cases likely passes it along to consumers as higher product prices.

What does the nation get for its expenditures on the environment? Business groups and conservatives continue to express skepticism that the costs are justifiable; hence their emphasis on deregulation. Yet in a detailed assessment of the CAA alone, economists at the EPA pegged continuing benefits through 2010 at four times the annual compliance costs. In a later study released in 2011 and containing estimates through 2020, the agency concluded that the “direct benefits to the American people . . . vastly exceed compliance costs.” The benefits were estimated to be $2 trillion in 2020, or more than thirty times the estimated costs in the medium projection, and ninety times the costs in the high projection; even in the low projection model, the benefits were three times the costs.14 Is this kind of analysis persuasive? Could the costs be reduced if the nation used different policy approaches, such as market incentives or flexible regulation? What else would you need to know to judge how well the CAA or any of the other environmental protection laws is working well?

(PAGE388) The seven major environmental protection statutes share a common approach to problem solving. All rely on a regulatory policy strategy, or what critics call command and control; economists would call it a system of direct regulation. What this means is that environmental quality standards are set and enforced according to the language of each statute, and each specifies how the agency is to make its decisions. Generally, Congress gives the EPA discretion to set standards that are consistent with the law, and the EPA is expected to base its decisions on the best available science. Invariably, however, setting environmental quality standards involves an uncertain mix of science and policy judgment about how much risk is acceptable to society (Andrews 2006a, 2019; Rosenbaum 2013). The cost of implementing the standard is also usually considered. These kinds of judgments are necessary whether the issue is the amount of pesticide residues allowed on food, the level of lead or arsenic in drinking water, or how much ground-level ozone in the air is acceptable. That is, the laws do not aim for the elimination of risks to public health or the environment; instead, they seek to reduce the level of risk to a point that is reasonable in light of the costs.

For example, in its 2011 proposal on mercury and other toxic chemicals emitted from coal-fired power plants, the Obama administration EPA calculated that the new rules would prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 130,000 asthma attacks, 4,700 heart attacks, and 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits each year. It put an estimated value of $37 to $90 billion annually on these and other human health benefits of the rules and argued that the rules would avoid some 540,000 missed work or “sick” days, thus enhancing workplace productivity and reducing health care costs. Moreover, it argued that the technology was readily available and its use would create tens of thousands of jobs in construction and the utility industry. Yet the power industry objected nonetheless to the new rules, citing what it considered to be excessively high costs of compliance, the possible closing of some power plants, an increased cost of electricity, and the loss of thousands of jobs. In late 2018, the Trump administration sought to revise the Obama rule as part of its efforts to revive coal-fired power plants and increase the production of fossil fuels. It argued that the existing rules were too costly to justify, but its conclusions about costs and benefits reflected a decision not to put any dollar value on the health benefits discussed here. As a result, its regulatory decisions are certain to be challenged in court, as many have been.15

Because the science is almost never complete or definitive, agency officials must make policy or political judgments about how stringent a standard ought to be, as this example illustrates. These kinds of decisions are never easy to make, and they invariably cause disagreements. Business groups typically criticize the standards for being too stringent and costly while environmental and public health groups often say they are too weak. One side or the other in a dispute, and sometimes both, may decide to challenge the standard in court (Andrews 2019; O’Leary 2019; Rinfret and Furlong 2013).

How Well Do Environmental Protection Programs Work?

With all the criticism that has been directed at environmental protection policy and command-and-control regulation, one would think the programs have been dismal failures. But the evidence suggests, on the contrary, that they have been quite successful. Granted, environmental policies are difficult to evaluate, in part because they entail long-term commitments to broad social values and goals that are not easily (PAGE389) quantified. Short-term and highly visible costs tend to attract more attention than long-term gains in public and environmental health—another source of debate over the value of environmental programs.

Some environmental conditions, such as air and water quality, are regularly monitored, but it is still difficult to assess how well present programs are achieving other objectives. For many critical natural resource concerns, such as protection of biological diversity, accurate measures are still being developed, and national inventories are not yet available. The uncertainties over environmental trends mean that scientists and policy advocates frequently debate whether the environment is deteriorating or improving. Many state-of-the-environment reports addressing such conditions and trends can be found on websites for government agencies and environmental research institutes. The box “Working with Sources: Evaluating Environmental and Energy Policy” lists some of the most useful sources of such data and analysis of what the information means.

Fairly good information is available for air and water quality even if disagreement exists over which measures to use. For example, the EPA estimates that, between 1980 and 2017, aggregate emissions of the six principal, or criteria, air pollutants decreased by 67 percent even while the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 165 percent, its population grew by 44 percent, vehicle miles traveled rose by 110 percent, and energy consumption grew by 25 percent, all of which would likely have increased air pollution without federal laws and regulations.16

Progress generally continues as measured by substantial declines between 2000 and 2017 in the atmospheric levels of all six of the key pollutants the EPA measures regularly. Despite these impressive gains in air quality, as of 2017, nearly 111 million people lived in counties with pollution levels above the standards set for at least one of these criteria pollutants, typically for ozone and fine particulates. Do such figures tell you that the Clean Air Act is working well? Should the nation have done even better more than forty years since its enactment? Are the critics right to say that the cost of improving air quality can be too high and that the EPA must base its standards and enforcement on what is economically acceptable?

Working with Sources Evaluating Environmental and Energy Policy

As stated throughout the text, it is important to evaluate how well public policies have worked and what they have achieved. The organizations and websites listed here offer such information from many different perspectives. Government websites usually have official reports and databases, such as the annual Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on air pollution and periodic reports on surface water quality. The Government Accountability Office conducts independent evaluations of executive agencies and programs for Congress. Many other groups evaluate environmental and resource programs in terms of economic costs, efficiency, and effectiveness (Resources for the Future); the role of government and regulatory burdens (Cato Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Heritage Foundation); environmental science and public health (Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Union of Concerned Scientists); or some combination of these criteria.

PAGE 391 www.cato.org (Cato Institute)

www.cei.org (Competitive Enterprise Institute)

www.doi.gov (Department of the Interior)

www.edf.org (Environmental Defense Fund)

www.epa.gov (Environmental Protection Agency)

www.gao.gov (Government Accountability Office)

www.heritage.org (Heritage Foundation)

www.nrdc.org (Natural Resources Defense Council)

www.rff.org (Resources for the Future)

www.sierraclub.org (Sierra Club)

www.ucsusa.org (Union of Concerned Scientists)

Go to the EPA website (www.epa.gov). Click on Environmental Topics and then choose a topic under this heading, such as air, chemicals and toxics, greener living, or health. How does the EPA portray the information and its significance? Is the description easy to understand? Is it helpful? Do you think any important information or perspective is missing in these discussions?

Now visit one or more of the other sites to see how environmental organizations and industry view environmental pollution, climate change, or energy issues. For example, visit the Natural Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org) and click on Our Work, then on Climate Change, and finally on Dirty Energy to see its description of coal-fired power plants, or on Clean Energy to see its description of possible transitions to renewable energy.

The nation’s water quality also has improved since passage of the 1972 CWA, although more slowly and more unevenly than has air quality. Monitoring data are less adequate for water quality than for air quality, with the states collectively assessing, for example, only 32 percent of the nation’s rivers and streams for the EPA’s late 2016 national water quality inventory report. Based on these inventories, 45 percent of the surveyed river and stream miles were of good quality and 55 percent impaired. Some 71 percent of lakes, ponds, and reservoirs also were found to be impaired. A classification as “impaired” means that water bodies are not meeting or fully meeting the national minimum water quality criteria for “designated beneficial uses” such as swimming, fishing, drinking-water supply, and support of aquatic life. These numbers indicate some improvement over time, yet they also tell us that many problems remain.17 Prevention of further degradation of water quality in the face of a growing (PAGE392) population and strong economic growth could be considered an important achievement. At the same time, water quality clearly falls short of the goals of federal clean water acts. Would you draw a different conclusion?

Policy Options for the Future.

What kinds of policy alternatives should be considered for the future to replace or, more likely, to complement environmental regulation? Critics of regulation frequently mention the greater use of market incentives or market-based approaches, more reliance on public information disclosure, flexible and more cooperative approaches to regulation, and further decentralization of power to the states (Dietz and Stern 2003; Eisner 2007; Fiorino 2006). Such alternatives may be especially appropriate where conventional regulation works poorly. Two examples are reducing indoor air pollution and cleaning up nonpoint water pollution, which cannot be traced to a single source. In both cases, there are too many sources to regulate or regulation simply is impractical; for example, no government can regulate indoor air quality in every U.S. dwelling. What might work instead are subsidies, public education campaigns, and tax credits, which are a form of market incentive. The federal government and the states have experimented with such policy options.

As a policy strategy, information disclosure is one way to supplement regulation. The nation uses this strategy by compiling the TRI; by publishing automobile fuel efficiency standards, which are also attached to the windows of new cars; by promoting appliance efficiency standards, developed as part of the federal ENERGY STAR program; and in many other ways (Kraft, Stephan, and Abel 2011).18 The hope here is that individuals and organizations will use the information to press industry and government to move more aggressively on environmental and energy improvements than they might otherwise be inclined to do. Or, acting proactively to avoid embarrassment, those same parties might undertake initiatives to head off criticism, such as reducing pollution or improving fuel efficiency.

The use of flexible regulatory approaches and collaborative regulatory approaches was a hallmark of the Clinton administration’s EPA, and the Bush and Obama administrations also favored these techniques (Vig and Kraft 2019). The general idea is to reduce conflict between regulators and those being regulated and to work cooperatively to develop appropriate environmental standards, regulations, and action programs. The intention is to move from the contentious, legalistic system of regulation to one in which the various stakeholders work together to seek solutions. Environmentalists are sometimes skeptical of these arrangements, fearful that they will endanger what has been achieved in environmental quality, but business interests, state and local governments, and many policy analysts think highly of the promise of flexible regulations and collaborative decision making (Bennear and Coglianese 2013).

Further decentralization of environmental responsibilities to the states is also controversial. Over the past four decades, a major transfer of environmental authority from the federal government to the states has taken place. How much more is desirable and what the likely effects will be are questions yet to be answered. Policymakers in both parties favor increased decentralization, but many analysts are skeptical about whether giving additional powers to the states will improve policy effectiveness. They also raise questions of equity. Many states have a greater capacity for environmental policy than they did four decades ago, but the performance from state to state is highly uneven. As noted, (PAGE393) California, Minnesota, and Oregon have been leaders in environmental policy innovation and enforcement, but other states lag and may be subjecting their citizens to preventable health risks. The tendency of states to compete with one another economically could constrain enforcement of environmental laws. In addition, many environmental problems—including acid rain, toxic air pollutants, and water pollution—cross state lines, suggesting that a national or regional approach might be both more effective and more equitable than leaving the solution to the states. Ultimately, what is needed is a sorting out of which environmental functions are best suited for state and local governments and which require national, or even international, management (Rabe 2019).

Natural Resource Policies

Many of the concerns that arise in environmental protection or pollution control policy also pertain to natural resource policies that govern the management of public lands, forests, and parks, and the efforts to protect species and biological diversity. Public policies for the management of natural resources developed in response to concerns over their abuse. After more than a century of policies that encouraged exploitation of resources in the vast federal lands of the West, the twentieth century brought a new ethic of environmental stewardship, the protection of resources for the future. That change has taken effect only slowly, however, and the resource development interests, such as timber, ranching, agriculture, mining, and oil and gas drilling businesses, often disagree with conservation organizations over what policies best promote the public’s welfare.

Most of the current federal natural resource policies are grounded in the principle of multiple use, which Congress intended to use to help balance competing national objectives of economic development and environmental preservation. Should old-growth forests in the Northwest be cut for timber or preserved as wildlife habitat? To what extent should mining for gold, silver, and other minerals, which can cause extensive environmental damage, be permitted on public lands—and how much should developers pay the Treasury for the right to do it? Should the government protect particularly sensitive public lands from oil and gas drilling, or is expansion of energy sources a more important priority? Using the guidance found in the various natural resource laws, the officials in federal resource agencies, mostly in the Interior and Agriculture Departments, are charged with answering these questions (Lubell and Segee 2013; C. Thomas 2013).

Two major statutes, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) and the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA), have helped to change the way the government makes natural resource decisions. These acts set out new procedures for government planning and management of resources, including extensive public participation, and they established a mission for long-term stewardship of public resources. In effect, these policies required government officials to consider diverse values in managing resources, not just the highest dollar return (Clarke and McCool 1996; Davis 2001).

These two policies did not end the disputes over public lands and forests. Environmentalists continue to battle with timber, ranching, mining, and oil and gas interests, and the winners often depend on which party controls the White House. Republican administrations tend to side more often with the forces of development, and Democratic administrations with those of land preservation. For example, President Clinton (PAGE394) used his executive authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish nineteen new national monuments and enlarge three others. In all, he protected more than six million acres of public land this way. In addition, just before he left office, Clinton issued an executive order protecting nearly sixty million acres of roadless areas in the national forests from future development. President Bush challenged Clinton’s policies, reversed many of his initiatives, and was far more receptive to development interests than to conservation (Lowry 2006; Lubell and Segee 2013; Vig 2019). Indeed, a comprehensive examination of Bush’s natural resource policies after his first year in office found that he was “aggressively encouraging more drilling, mining, and logging on much of the seven hundred million acres controlled by the Interior Department and the Forest Service.”19 President Obama’s approach was much like Clinton’s. He established over thirty new national monuments under the Antiquities Act and protected large areas of public land and ocean preserves, much to the consternation of his critics. President Trump’s actions resemble those of the Bush administration, with a strong push for oil and gas drilling on public lands and offshore, and other economic development on public lands, especially in the West.20

One of the most controversial of the natural resource policies is also one of the toughest. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) in many ways symbolizes the nation’s commitment to resource conservation goals, and perhaps for that reason, it has become a lightning rod for forces opposed to environmentalists. The ESA broadened federal authority to protect threatened and endangered species and established procedures to ensure the recovery of all species threatened with extinction. It prohibited the “taking” of such species by fishing, hunting, or habitat alteration or destruction whether the species inhabited state, federal, or private land. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) implements the ESA for land-based species, and the agency has struggled to achieve its goals amidst frequent congressional criticism and perennially inadequate budgets. Despite condemnation from conservatives who see the ESA as a threat to property rights, most decisions under the act have been made without much controversy, and the act has prevented few development projects from going forward. In recent years, the FWS has made good use of collaborative decision making in developing habitat conservation plans to avoid such confrontations.

Evaluating Success.

As is the case with pollution control policies, evaluating the success of natural resource policies is not easy. The kinds of measurements available, such as the number of acres of protected lands set aside in national monuments and parks, are not good indicators of what really matters. Still, these laws have brought about considerable achievements. For example, the national park system grew from about 26 million acres in 1960 to over 84 million acres by 2017, and the number of units or parks in the system doubled. Since adoption of the 1964 Wilderness Act, Congress has set aside 109 million acres of wilderness through the National Wilderness Preservation System. Since 1968, it has designated over 13,000 protected miles in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System (Vig and Kraft 2019).

Protection of biological diversity through the ESA has produced some success as well, although far less than its supporters believe essential. By 2017, forty-four years after passage of the 1973 act, more than 1,590 U.S. plant and animal species had been listed as either endangered or (PAGE395) threatened. Over 700 critical habitats have been designated, more than 1,000 habitat conservation plans have been approved, and more than 1,500 active recovery plans have been put into effect. Yet only a few endangered species have recovered fully (Vig and Kraft 2019).

The true measurement of success or failure is whether an ecosystem is healthy or sustainable, but even ecologists cannot agree on precisely what that means or what indicators to use. Ecologists are attempting to develop such standards so that communities across the nation can determine whether, or to what extent, a lake, river, bay, or land area should be preserved or restored to a healthy condition. Many communities are already trying to make those kinds of decisions. Massive federal and state efforts to restore damaged ecosystems such as the Great Lakes, the Florida Everglades, and the Chesapeake Bay testify to the need for accurate ecological indicators.

Policy Options for the Future.

Even without the most accurate indicators to judge the success of natural resource policies, suggestions abound for reforming the policies to make them more effective, efficient, and fair. Among the most frequently proposed are reduction or elimination of subsidies for resource development or exploitation; the imposition of user fees, which are a form of market incentive; the use of ecosystem-based management; and greater reliance on collaborative decision making and collaborative planning.

Natural resource policies have long incorporated generous resource subsidies to users—such as ranchers, mining and timber companies, and oil and gas drilling companies. Often, the user pays the government less in fees than the cost to taxpayers of providing services to these businesses. For example, for years the Forest Service realized less money from timber sales than it cost the agency to build and maintain the (PAGE 396) access roads for loggers. Because of the General Mining Law of 1872 (little has changed since its adoption), the mining industry has paid only nominal sums for the right to mine public lands and has paid no royalty on the minerals extracted from them; moreover, it has caused extensive environmental damage, particularly to western rivers.

A policy to protect. In this July 8, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump listens as Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt speaks during an event on the environment in the East Room of the White House in Washington. The Trump administration has proposed changes to the landmark Endangered Species Act, a move it says will improve transparency and effectiveness, but critics argue will weaken the act significantly, driving more species to extinction.

Critics argue that the government should reduce or end such resource subsidies. They are hard to defend on equity or efficiency grounds, and often they contribute to environmental degradation.21 Environmentalists say that development interests should pay the full cost of access to public resources through higher user fees. Although the argument seems reasonable, the developers stoutly defend their long-standing subsidies, arguing that changing the rules at this time would be unfair to them and the industries they represent and would harm the economy in many rural areas of the West.

The idea of imposing user fees extends to charges for entering national parks and other federal lands. Historically, visitors paid a small fee that was well below what they would pay for comparable recreation on private lands and insufficient to cover the costs of park maintenance. Fees have gone up over time, but is this fair? Some argue that people already pay for the national parks with their federal taxes. Should they have to pay again when they enter a park? From the perspective of equity, the answer might be, “Yes, those who use public services should pay a premium for them. Otherwise, taxpayers who do not use the parks are subsidizing those who do.” What is fair in this case?

As a policy, ecosystem-based management means a shift in emphasis toward principles of protecting habitat and maintaining biological diversity. Among its supporters are natural scientists, particularly biologists and ecologists concerned about the loss of biological diversity and the fragmentation of ecosystems that do not coincide with the boundaries of national parks and wilderness areas. Essentially, ecosystem-based management is a long-term, comprehensive approach to natural resource management, with a priority on ecosystem functioning rather than human use (Cortner and Moote 1999; Layzer 2008). Critics of ecosystem-based management include economic development interests that predict less access to natural resources and conservatives who question the wisdom of increasing government agencies’ authority over public and private lands. Some policy analysts also question just how effective ecosystem-based management has been, reminding us that even good ideas do not always translate into effective policy. Much depends on how programs are designed and implemented (Layzer 2008, 2013).

Collaborative decision making and planning aspires to resolve conflicts over local and regional natural resource issues. It brings the various stakeholders together in an ad hoc and voluntary process characterized by cooperation and consensus building. Policymakers have used it to develop successful habitat conservation plans, protect and restore damaged ecosystems, and plan for the future of river basins, among many other activities (Sabatier et al. 2005; Weber 2003; Wondolleck and Yaffee 2000). The parties have an incentive to cooperate because collaboration may speed up the decision-making process and allow them to avoid costly litigation. Although the principle is generally applauded, critics of collaboration argue that not all interests are necessarily represented and that the most powerful interests may dominate the process. Nevertheless, such collaboration holds considerable promise for the future, and its use is likely to continue (Gerlak, Heikkila, and Lubell 2013; Lubell and Segee 2013).

PAGE397Energy Policy

Energy policy is part environmental protection and part natural resource policy, but most analysts would probably agree that the United States has no real or comprehensive energy policy. Instead, individual and corporate decisions in the marketplace largely determine energy use, with each sector of energy influenced to some extent by a variety of government subsidies and regulations. For example, since the 1940s, nuclear power has benefited substantially from government subsidies; indeed, the financial aid made its commercial development possible. Other subsidies have promoted coal, natural gas, and oil, often in ways that those outside the industries barely recognize.22 As discussed in this section, even more recent energy policies continued this pattern, although President Obama gave far greater emphasis to renewable resources such as wind and solar energy. As noted previously, President Trump strongly favored expanded development of fossil fuels and minimized the risks of climate change.

Energy policy is something of an anomaly compared to the collection of broadly supported environmental policies listed in Table 11-1. For energy, the prevailing pattern was policy stalemate or gridlock from the 1970s through the early 2000s. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter all attempted to formulate national energy policies to promote energy independence by increasing domestic supplies, primarily fossil fuels. Following the oil embargo imposed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1973 and the subsequent sharp increases in the cost of oil, Carter, who was elected in 1976, undertook the most sustained and comprehensive of these presidential policy efforts, but for the most part, they failed. Congress did create the DOE in 1977 to consolidate previously independent energy agencies, but its chief mission was national defense (nuclear weapons development), not development of energy resources.

The other major outcomes from the energy policy debates of the 1970s were enhanced federal research support for energy conservation and efficiency and automobile fuel efficiency requirements. Congress did finally raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards (originally approved in 1975) in a 2007 energy act, and the Obama administration negotiated with the automobile industry to set far higher standards for the future, a position challenged by the Trump administration.

Another kind of policy approach to achieve the same goal of reducing use of imported oil or reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be to impose a higher tax on gasoline or on all fossil fuels, what is usually called a carbon tax (Rabe 2018). Under some proposals, such a carbon tax would be combined with a reduction in other taxes to create what is called a revenue-neutral carbon fee that imposes no net increase on individuals or corporations. Which policy strategy is preferable: setting higher fuel economy standards or imposing a higher tax? Is one fairer or more politically feasible than the other? Would you expect there to be any difference in overall effectiveness of such policies?23

In the more than four decades since energy issues rose to prominence on the national agenda, a number of energy policies have been approved, and yet the nation does not have a comprehensive national energy policy. The reasons can be found in partisan and regional

(PAGE398) market share in a changing energy economy. With the newer challenge of climate change, debate on energy issues has become even more contentious as energy and climate change policies are closely intertwined.

Among the most notable energy policies that Congress has managed to approve, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 created new energy conservation programs aimed at electric appliances, lighting, plumbing, and heating and cooling systems, as well as efficiency programs for alternative-fuel fleet vehicles. A decade later, the George W. Bush White House began a major energy policy initiative. The president’s plan called for an increase in the production and use of fossil fuels. It also favored a greater reliance on nuclear energy, gave modest attention to the role of energy conservation, and sparked intense debate on Capitol Hill with its emphasis on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 emphasized greater production and use of oil, natural gas, and coal, and strongly boosted federal support for nuclear power. It also streamlined—some would say weakened—environmental requirements as they affect energy production. In addition, it required utilities to modernize the nation’s electricity grid to ensure reliable delivery of electric energy. Even the president conceded that the complex law, running to over 1,700 pages, would do little to lower gasoline or other energy costs, or U.S. dependence on imported oil, in the short term.24 Two years later, Congress approved the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which increased auto fuel efficiency standards modestly and mandated an increase in use of biofuels via a renewable fuel standard. Most of the biofuel to date has been ethanol derived from corn crops (40 percent of which goes to this purpose), although research and development projects continue on other forms of biofuels.

PAGE399 Perhaps the greatest challenge for the future of energy policy lies in its connection to climate change, which many authoritative studies link strongly to use of fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas (DiMento and Doughman 2014; IPCC 2018; Selin and VanDeveer 2019). In effect, the nation needs to choose whether and how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by how much, and over what period. This in turn implies some choices over what mix of energy sources best meets the public’s interest and the world’s interests (see Figure 11-2 for the 2017 distribution of U.S. energy consumption by source), and what kinds of policy tools should be used to reach the goals that are agreed upon. For example, should we rely on regulation (such as fuel economy standards), imposition of taxes (such as a carbon tax), use of market incentives (a cap-and-trade system), investment in research and technology development, or some mix of these tools? The focused discussion that follows explores some of these questions.

Focused Discussion: Climate Change and Energy Policy Alternatives

Climate change is the most important environmental challenge of the twenty-first century, and U.S. policymakers are only just beginning to deal with it seriously, particularly at the federal level. As indicated in the chapter opening, each new study or report illustrates continuing controversy over the extent of the problem and its possible solutions. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists, however, are convinced that enough is already known about the risks of climate change to justify taking strong measures now to reduce future harm to people and the environment (DiMento and Doughman 2014; IPCC 2018; U.S. Global Change Research Program 2018). So too are the national intelligence agencies and the military; both say that climate change is among the most serious national security threats that the nation faces.25

Nonetheless, some skeptics have argued that climate science is inadequate to forecast such risks with much precision. They support more research on the subject and voluntary efforts by industry, but they oppose most other policy actions as premature and excessively costly. Some of the more extreme critics of climate science deny that the world is experiencing any climate change at present or that it is likely to in the future, while others acknowledge that some changes are under way but challenge the idea that human activities (such as the use of fossil fuels) are a major cause. Some climate change critics also argue that the United States can adapt to any climate change that does occur, and therefore that the nation need not be overly concerned about preventing it, particularly if doing so is viewed as too costly (Dunlap and McCright 2015).26


As we have stated throughout the text, perhaps the most common basis for judging whether public policy action is needed or how well it is doing is effectiveness. In the case of climate change, the question is what effective action government might take to reduce the likelihood that severe climate change will occur in the future, to minimize the impacts it will have, and to facilitate adaptation to changing climatic (PAGE400) conditions, such as increased frequency of severe storms and flooding. Governments might rely on prevention, mitigation, or adaptation strategies. Most scientists would say it is too late for preventive solutions other than to reduce the risks of future change, since the world already has released enough greenhouse gases to set climate change in motion and that cannot be undone with present technologies. Thus, nearly all discussion focuses on mitigation and adaptation responses.

Although commentators and public officials do not always make the link clear, climate change policy is closely tied to energy policy. Acting on climate change means that we must reduce the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases, with attention focused on carbon dioxide that is produced when fossil fuels are burned. Both the United States and the rest of the world rely on fossil fuels for nearly 80 percent of the energy used today. Most experts, including those who work under the auspices of the IPCC and in federal agencies, say that one of the surest ways to slow the rate of climate change and reduce its harmful effects is to cut back significantly on the use of fossil fuels.27 If coal, oil, and natural gas remain the dominant energy sources, carbon dioxide emissions will continue unless carbon capture and storage technologies become technically and economically feasible; they are not at present.

Because we are so heavily dependent on fossil fuels, many policymakers are reluctant to endorse a substantial reduction in their use for fear that doing so will significantly harm the economy if energy prices rise too quickly. They also argue that the nation at this time has no major fuel sources to substitute for fossil fuels other than nuclear power, and nuclear plants both are very costly and continue to face public opposition; that opposition increased to some extent after the catastrophic 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. Concern also continues over the unresolved issue of how to dispose of the spent fuel rods (nuclear waste) that result from the operation of nuclear power plants.

As noted in the chapter’s introduction, the Paris Agreement on climate change was approved by virtually all the world’s nations in late 2015 and went into effect in November 2016. It seeks to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, beyond which scientists believe we will be locked into a future of severe warming, rising sea levels, extensive flooding and droughts, food and water scarcity, and extreme storms. In its 2018 report mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, the IPCC highlighted the advantages of an even more rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to keep temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius.28

The Paris Agreement consists of individual plans by each nation to lower its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 or 2030 by an amount sufficient to achieve about half of the required reduction needed. The other half relies on a requirement that each nation ratchet up its plans every five years in a manner to be negotiated at international meetings beginning in 2020. In addition, each nation is to take stock of its emissions reduction actions, which it is required to monitor, verify, and report on publicly. As is apparent, the agreement relies heavily on voluntary action by nations, but with some legally binding elements.29

The varied actions that nations will take include what are called natural climate solutions such as reforestation and changes in agricultural practices and other land uses. These are unlikely to be adequate, and thus what some call “decarbonizing the economy” by moving away from reliance on fossil fuels will likely be the most effective policy alternative.30 When the technologies are more fully developed and cost-effective, capturing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it might be relied on as well.

(PAGE401) To be effective, of course, the decision to reduce reliance on fossil fuels must be maintained over time to send the right message to industry and consumers, and especially to those developing new energy sources and related technologies. These include companies seeking advances in solar and wind power, battery storage, and new reactor designs for use of nuclear power. The United States clearly lacks that commitment at present. Even so, in recent years clean power sources have soared in use as prices have declined. For example, more than half of the utility-scale electricity generation capacity added to the U.S. grid in 2017 came from renewable resources.31

The Trump administration announced that the nation would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, but legally it cannot do so before November 2020. As noted earlier, it also has sought to reverse both the commitments and actions favored by the Obama administration to reduce U.S. greenhouse emissions. Those emissions rose sharply in 2018 as the nation’s economy grew. In its 2020 budget recommendations to Congress, the administration asked to eliminate the EPA’s Global Change Research Information Office; that office has only fifty employees and a budget of $19 million. The White House also recommended a 31 percent cut in the overall EPA budget and a cut in the agency’s science budget of 40 percent; based on its recent budgetary decisions, Congress is very unlikely to agree to the requests.

As the chapter’s overview of climate change, international agreements, and domestic policy priorities suggests, many questions remain about the U.S. commitment and the effectiveness of present policy actions. Has the scientific community supplied enough credible information about climate change and its effects on public health and the environment for policymakers to act and maintain policies over time? What kinds of public policies should be considered at this time, and which of them is likely to be the most effective?

The following discussion addresses at least some of the economic issues, questions of political feasibility, and equity and other ethical issues. Which of the policies being considered is likely to be the least costly? How can the benefits of action be balanced against the costs, particularly when policymakers address very long-term costs and benefits that are difficult to measure? We can also ask what is the best way to measure the costs of climate change and the benefits and costs of acting to reduce its risks.32 What about ethical issues? Is it fair for people today to continue their dependence on fossil fuels and to pass along the risks of climate change to future generations?

Economic Issues

If policymakers focused solely on reducing the use of fossil fuels to cut carbon dioxide emissions, what actions might they suggest? Among the most common policy recommendations are to increase taxes on fossil fuels such as through a carbon tax, to reduce their use (a market incentive approach), and to raise energy efficiency standards that apply to motor vehicles and other products (a regulatory approach), which we discussed at the chapter’s opening. Other proposals include government support to encourage use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, increased spending on energy research and development to speed the arrival of new technologies (PAGE 402) such as advanced batteries for energy storage), tax credits for buying energy-efficient appliances and cars, and approval of tougher building codes to improve commercial and home energy efficiency. Many bills introduced in Congress in the late 2000s emphasized the use of a market-based cap-and-trade policy that would resemble the one for sulfur dioxide under the 1990 CAA. Such a program might give away and/or sell through auctions various credits for the right to release greenhouse gases, which could be bought and sold by coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, and manufacturers. Money generated by the government’s sale of such credits could be distributed to industries, states, and consumers to encourage use of renewable energy, conservation, and energy efficiency. But to keep things simple, let us consider only the first two approaches.

Should the federal government, for example, raise gasoline taxes by a substantial amount, perhaps fifty cents to a dollar per gallon, or more? Gasoline in the United States would still be far cheaper than it is in most other industrialized nations, where it is usually two to three times higher because of government taxes. Raising gasoline taxes has several benefits, including providing additional revenues for government support of other environmental and energy programs. Of course, higher gas prices can hurt some segments of the public that can ill afford the cost. One alternative is what we discussed earlier as a revenue-neutral gas tax—or a broader carbon tax—in which all fees are rebated or returned to the public. This is the position favored by the group Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Wind and solar power. Wind and solar power development have increased significantly in recent years as prices have declined sharply. In many parts of the country, wind turbines of this kind have become cheaper than any other form of energy generation, including coal-fired, natural gas, and nuclear power plants.

The assumption behind such proposals is that the higher cost of gasoline or other fossil fuels would be a strong incentive for consumers and manufacturers to change their behavior. With higher gas prices, for example, consumers might look for fuel-efficient vehicles, or perhaps use mass transit or find other ways to use their cars less often. Traffic congestion in the 2000s cost the nation more than $78 billion a year in (PAGE403) wasted fuel and extra travel time, a figure that is expected to soar over the next twenty years as the U.S. population grows and the number of vehicles keeps pace.33 Reducing the use of motor vehicles could bring many economic benefits, as well as improve air quality (and thus public health benefits) in urban areas.

What about raising automobile fuel efficiency standards? The Obama administration and the auto industry agreed to a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, although the Trump administration has sought to end those requirements; California and other states are challenging the Trump decision in court.34 Should the standards be lowered as the Trump administration sought to do? Should the standards be set at an even higher level than the Obama administration chose? What information would you need to decide which approach is most defensible, such as an indication from automakers that high standards are both technically and economically feasible?

Even without new standards, consumers can choose from a wide range of higher-efficiency vehicles. Moreover, many automakers, including Tesla, General Motors, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo, are planning new models for electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids that they say will be more affordable and practical. All see a bright future for electric vehicles, and some say they will produce no other models within a few years. A leading policy question is whether the temporary and limited federal and state tax credits for such vehicles will continue; if they do, that would help consumers pay the short-term higher cost of purchase. With transportation accounting for 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States (40 percent in California), such vehicles eventually will have a major impact.

Political Feasibility

Climate change legislation has been introduced and debated in Congress over the past decade with no resolution, in part because members are concerned about the costs that may be imposed on the economy and lack of clear evidence of public concern and resolve to act (Kraft 2018; Selin and VanDeveer 2019). As noted previously, some states have been able to take significant steps as public support for action has grown (Karapin 2016; Rabe 2004, 2010, 2019; Raymond 2016). Members of Congress and many state legislators typically have shown little enthusiasm for raising vehicle fuel economy standards or for increasing federal gasoline taxes. Automakers, with few exceptions, have been similarly unenthusiastic about such steps.

Yet surveys in late 2018 conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication indicate a public that is increasingly knowledgeable about climate change, concerned about its impacts, and willing to support policy initiatives. Seven in ten Americans think “global warming” is happening, an increase of ten percentage points since March 2015. Some 62 percent understand that it is mostly caused by human actions. More significantly, large majorities in the survey in both political parties say that they support policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels and to promote the use of clean energy sources. These include components of the Green New Deal, the Clean Power Plan, and a revenue-neutral carbon tax, although all also face criticism from political conservatives. Large majorities also supported increased funding for renewable energy research and provision of tax rebates to those who buy energy-efficient (PAGE404) vehicles or solar panels.35 Climate change remains a poorly understood problem and it is not as salient as many other concerns people have, such as over the economy, jobs, and health care. Still, based on surveys of this kind, the political feasibility of action appears to be increasing.

One sign of that increasing political feasibility is policy action at the state and local level. By 2018, the states had enacted dozens of laws that established specific strategies, from electricity generation to building standards, transportation initiatives, and new approaches to forestry and agriculture, all of which might reduce greenhouse gases and sometimes with significant economic savings for consumers. Oregon, for example, established a tough standard for carbon dioxide releases from new electric power plants. Massachusetts also set limits on carbon dioxide emissions for many of the state’s power plants. California established its own cap-and-trade program and other intriguing climate change policies.36 Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City all put new money into mass transit in recent years to reduce highway congestion, improve air quality, or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. New studies of these states and opportunities for action at both the state and national levels suggest that there may well be reasons for greater optimism on political feasibility than most commentators have assumed (Karapin 2016; Rabe 2018, 2019; Raymond 2016).

Ethical Issues

The ethical issues of climate change and energy policy concern how the various policy proposals affect different groups of citizens now and in the future. For example, many point out that the gasoline tax is regressive, that it has an adverse effect on the poor. Will raising this tax make driving to work prohibitively expensive? What about people who live in sparsely populated rural areas and need to drive farther to work and for other necessities, or who need to use heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans that get lower mileage? Will adding new technologies to make cars more fuel-efficient push the price of already expensive vehicles beyond the reach of many people?

One concern many students of climate change raise relates to the role of the United States as an international leader. As the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, does the United States have an obligation to take a leadership role on climate change and promote sustainable development, as President Obama argued was the case with the Paris Agreement? Without U.S. support, it was highly unlikely that other nations would have joined the pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Or consider these facts. The United States, which comprises less than 5 percent of the world’s population, is among the top producers of greenhouse gases. We are second only to China in total emissions, and we exceed every other populous country in per capita emissions (Selin and VanDeveer 2019). Does this suggest a moral obligation to the world and to future generations to take greater action? Indeed, should moral considerations be a major factor in policy action on climate change, or should science and economics largely be the basis for policy choices?

Pope Francis weighed in on these questions in 2015 in his encyclical on climate change, “Laudato Si’,” where he called for what the press (PAGE405) described as a “radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change.”37 Would you agree with the Pope that the ethical concerns he raised at the time should be a major factor in any choices about climate change?

Also to be considered in this debate is intergenerational equity, or what is fair to future generations. Climate change forecasts suggest that the most serious adverse impacts will be felt mostly by people fifty or more years in the future. Acting on climate change, however, would impose economic burdens on those living now. Is it more equitable to defer action on climate change to improve economic well-being today or to act now to protect future generations from an unreasonable risk of climate change and its effects? What obligations does the present generation have to the future in this regard?

Those opposed to a strong climate change policy for the United States raise a different kind of equity concern. Why should the United States lead in these efforts when so little has been required (as was true, for example, under the Kyoto Protocol) of rapidly developing nations such as China and India? The United States and other developed nations have been the main generators of greenhouse gases and thus could fairly be said to be obliged to play a greater role in reducing emissions now. Yet in the future, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, and other developing nations are likely to exceed the U.S. level of emissions. Does equity call for those nations to take substantial action today rather than to place most of the burden on the United States and other rich nations? These kinds of issues have been debated for years at international meetings on climate change and likely will continue to be at the center of concern in the future.


This chapter defines and explains the nature of U.S. environmental and energy policy and introduces key concepts associated with this policy area. It describes the major policies and how they came to be adopted, and how they became increasingly controversial over time. Knowing this history is essential for understanding why the policies are evaluated so differently by Democrats and Republicans and by the major organized groups active in this policy area, particularly environmental and business organizations.

As we have argued throughout the text, it is important to assess environmental and energy policies in terms of effectiveness in achieving their long-term goals, but also how efficiently and fairly they do so, and the societal impacts they have, both positive and negative. It is equally important to seek out the best available information in making these kinds of judgments. These tasks are especially difficult when facing new and complex challenges such as climate change, but the principles of policy analysis apply here as much as they do in other policy areas.

Recent surveys show that the U.S. public is concerned about environmental and health risks and continues to support strong public policies. When a Gallup poll as far back as the year 2000 asked people to name what they thought would be the most important problem facing the United States twenty-five years in the future, more people named the environment than any other issue. Nonetheless, in the short term, environmental problems, including climate change, remain a low-salience concern, as they have been for much of the past several decades.38

The chapter also emphasizes the need to modernize environmental, resource, and energy policies for the twenty-first century. From many (PAGE406) perspectives, including that of policy analysis, the policies are neither as effective nor as economically efficient as they could be with some adjustments in the policy strategies that are used. Policymakers need to evaluate current policies and consider alternative approaches that hold more promise for better performance. Among the changes the U.S. environmental policy system needs is a set of priorities that is more in tune with the reality of risk to public and environmental health, including policies to deal with climate change. Ultimately, these and other policy changes must also be consistent with the widely recognized, long-term goal of sustainable development.

The Ripple Effect of Environmental Policy

I think it helps to give a little bit of a sense of my own personal background to explain where my research comes from. Before coming to Wharton, I spent ten years as a federal prosecutor in New York. I was an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. And in that capacity, I participated in kind of traditional law enforcement, particularly with respect to environmental laws. And so the traditional model of environmental law is that Congress passes a law and the government enforces it against business firms which are the polluters, right? So that’s kind of the traditional understanding of what environmental law is. My research, what I tried to do is I kinda flip that around. So I ask, what if the government is not the regulator, but instead private firms are regulators? And what if the government is not the regulator, but instead as a polluter? So my research kinda falls into two categories right now. The first is exploring the role of the government as a polluter. And the second is exploring the role of business firms as sources of environmental standards. The side of my research that focuses on the government as polluter, I think one of the key takeaways is that the military does not always stand opposed to the idea of environmental protection. There are kind of two narratives about the role that the military plays in society with respect to the environment. One is that the environment and national security stand opposed to one another and that the environment needs to bend if national security is at issue. But what I suggested my research in a paper called The military environmental complex is that right now because the military is the nation’s largest consumer of fossil fuels. And because many thousands of soldiers have died guarding fuel convoys in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military has this tremendous internal incentive to reduce its fossil fuel use and replace it with renewables. And so is investing heavily in that right now. And so that sort of turns the traditional narrative on its head and suggests that the military actually has a very important role to play in supporting the development of clean and renewable energy technology. So on the other side of my research, which focuses on the idea that business firms can be a source of environmental standards. I think that fact in and of itself is surprising. When you study environmental law in a traditional law school environment. The focus tends to be on the laws that Congress passes and business firms as polluters and the targets of government regulation. But what you see in this environment here in the Business School, and I think that is of great interest, is that business firms can themselves be sources of environmental standards. So for example, if Walmart imposes requirements on its supply chain, that suppliers need to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions in order to have contracts with Walmart. That in and of itself is an environmental standard. Similarly, non-profit organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council or the Forest Stewardship Council, create certification programs whereby you can certify a fishery or fish catching or forest timber practices as sustainable. And in order to warrant the label, the certification, the business needs to comply with certain rules which are then audited by third parties. Those are themselves environmental governance, although maybe not in the most traditional sense. And so I think it can be eye-opening for people to understand that certain forms of corporate environmental, social responsibility are actually that they have broader implications than just for the firms themselves. So I think the most surprising conclusion has come in connection with some empirical work that I’ve been doing with colleagues here at Wharton to test the hypothesis that I put out in an article called valuing national security. So in the article called the military environmental complex, I suggest that the military is playing an important role in stimulating innovation in technological advancement in the clean energy arena in valuing national security, I suggest that the military, by focusing on renewable energy development and reducing its fossil fuel use, actually has the potential to affect policy debate and individual behavior in the kind of climate change arena. The mere fact that the Department of Defense is using solar panels has the potential to drive individuals to want to use solar panels. At least that’s the hypothesis. So I’ve been working with colleagues here at Wharton to test this hypothesis empirically. And just a few days ago, we received some preliminary test results. We suspected that the difference would be among conservative survey participants, people who generally don’t tend to favor environmental protection, but do tend to value the role of the military in society. What we found was actually that People who self-identify as liberal were more likely to want to purchase renewable energy from their utility when they learned that the Department of Defense was actively using renewable energy technology, the sample size wasn’t large enough for conservative, so we don’t know yet what the result is on that front, but we plan to follow up with additional testing. There are really three practical implications of my research at this point. The first is that I think we need to be thinking much more broadly. Scholars and regulators need to be much more broadly about what constitutes environmental law and environmental governance. It is not simply laws passed by Congress or regulations passed by EPA. It includes private environmental governance, that is, actions by firms and non-governmental organizations to set environmental standards. So I think that’s really the first implication. The second implication relates to the work that I’m doing on valuing national security. That is, I think it’s extremely important to recognize that if we want to change individual behaviors in the climate change context, that we need to think broadly about how to frame climate change. We shouldn’t simply be framing climate change as an environmental issue. It needs to be framed as a national security issue as well. The third implication is very specific. One of the reasons why the military has been able to leverage its purchasing power to stimulate the development of renewable energy technologies is because Congress gave it a particular statutory authority. That statutory authority allows it to enter into what are called power purchase agreements, whereby the military purchases power from an energy generating entity. And so the military is able to enter into power purchase agreements for 30 years, which is necessary in order to allow the entity that that builds the generating facility on military land to recoup its initial investment. You can’t do renewables on a very short timeframe because the upfront costs tend to be high. Other government agencies are limited to ten-year power purchasing agreements. So I make a very specific recommendation in the military environmental complex that Congress should consider lengthening the term for other government agencies as well, such that they could enter into these long-term 30-year power purchase agreements because I think that that would allow them to stimulate the development of renewable energy technology as well. Obviously, my research focuses on environmental governance, but the point is broader and I think it’s important to recognize that the idea that private governance is not limited just to the environmental arena. Private governance exists in firms where they’re setting labor standards for their suppliers and in their supply chains. There are also private financial standards. Recently two candidates for higher office entered into a contract whereby they agreed to certain campaign finance rules. So rather than relying on Congress to set campaign finance rules to candidates privately agreed that they would not accept certain money or not spend more than certain amounts. So the phenomenon of private governance actually extends quite broadly. And I think it’s important to recognize that the news is full of stories recently about the impact of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been releasing various working group reports which demonstrate that climate change is happening, that climate change is anthropogenic, and that the consequences of climate change may be dire for society. In addition, a group of 16 retired generals from the military recently last month, I believe, put out a report saying that climate changes is posing a national security threat and that climate change act as a threat multiplier that destabilizes countries that has the potential to increase conflict, to create climate refugees and other situations in which the US military is going to be called upon to address these conflicts. So I think the idea that climate change is a national security issue is certainly in the news. What sets my research apart in part comes from where I’m situated in what my background is. Most lawyers who decided to become professors go on to teach in law schools. But I chose to come to a business school. Obviously, my research is very connected to the idea of the role that business plays in society. So I think what sets my research apart in part is the fact that I’m kind of bridging these two worlds and try and have a conversation not only with other legal scholars, but also with business and management scholars. I’m following up on this research and a number of different ways with respect to valuing national security. I am currently working with colleagues here at Wharton to empirically test the hypothesis. So we’re going to be following up additional studies in which we frame climate change as a national security issue or demonstrate military leadership with respect to renewable energy use to see what impact that has on individual behaviors and beliefs and attitudes toward climate policy and reducing fossil fuel use. I’m also working with some colleagues here at Wharton on an empirical study to understand how business firms talk about climate change in their Securities and Exchange Commission disclosures? Do they talk about it as an issue of strategic advantage? Do they talk about it as an issue of environmental protection and morality? Do they talk about it as an issue of national security? And in particular, four major military contractors, How did they talk about climate change? And to the extent that the ways in which they’ve talked about climate change over time have changed what can account for the change. So those are some empirical projects that I’m working on with colleagues here at Wharton. I’m also continuing to do my own work on more kind of normative theories of private environmental governance to try to argue about how it fits into larger views of what constitutes environmental law.

New kind of supercapacitor made without carbon

Energy storage device could deliver more power than current versions of this technology.

David L. Chandler | MIT News Office

Publication Date:

October 10, 2016

Press Inquiries

To demonstrate the supercapacitor's ability to store power, the researchers modified an off-the-shelf hand-crank flashlight (the red parts at each side) by cutting it in half and installing a small supercapacitor in the center, in a conventional button battery case, seen at top. When the crank is turned to provide power to the flashlight, the light continues to glow long after the cranking stops, ...


To demonstrate the supercapacitor’s ability to store power, the researchers modified an off-the-shelf hand-crank flashlight (the red parts at each side) by cutting it in half and installing a small supercapacitor in the center, in a conventional button battery case, seen at top. When the crank is turned to provide power to the flashlight, the light continues to glow long after the cranking stops, thanks to the stored energy.


Photo: Melanie Gonick

Energy storage devices called supercapacitors have become a hot area of research, in part because they can be charged rapidly and deliver intense bursts of power. However, all supercapacitors currently use components made of carbon, which require high temperatures and harsh chemicals to produce.

Now researchers at MIT and elsewhere have for the first time developed a supercapacitor that uses no conductive carbon at all, and that could potentially produce more power than existing versions of this technology.

The team’s findings are being reported in the journal
Nature Materials, in a paper by Mircea Dincă, an MIT associate professor of chemistry; Yang Shao-Horn, the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy; and four others.

“We’ve found an entirely new class of materials for supercapacitors,” Dincă says.

Dincă and his team have been exploring for years a class of materials called metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs, which are extremely porous, sponge-like structures. These materials have an extraordinarily large surface area for their size, much greater than the carbon materials do. That is an essential characteristic for supercapacitors, whose performance depends on their surface area. But MOFs have a major drawback for such applications: They are not very electrically conductive, which is also an essential property for a material used in a capacitor.

“One of our long-term goals was to make these materials electrically conductive,” Dincă says, even though doing so “was thought to be extremely difficult, if not impossible.” But the material did exhibit another needed characteristic for such electrodes, which is that it conducts ions (atoms or molecules that carry a net electric charge) very well.

“All double-layer supercapacitors today are made from carbon,” Dincă says. “They use carbon nanotubes, graphene, activated carbon, all shapes and forms, but nothing else besides carbon. So this is the first noncarbon, electrical double-layer supercapacitor.”

One advantage of the material used in these experiments, technically known as Ni3(hexaiminotriphenylene)2, is that it can be made under much less harsh conditions than those needed for the carbon-based materials, which require very high temperatures above 800 degrees Celsius and strong reagent chemicals for pretreatment.

The team says supercapacitors, with their ability to store relatively large amounts of power, could play an important role in making renewable energy sources practical for widespread deployment. They could provide grid-scale storage that could help match usage times with generation times, for example, or be used in electric vehicles and other applications.

The new devices produced by the team, even without any optimization of their characteristics, already match or exceed the performance of existing carbon-based versions in key parameters, such as their ability to withstand large numbers of charge/discharge cycles. Tests showed they lost less than 10 percent of their performance after 10,000 cycles, which is comparable to existing commercial supercapacitors.

But that’s likely just the beginning, Dincă says. MOFs are a large class of materials whose characteristics can be tuned to a great extent by varying their chemical structure. Work on optimizing their molecular configurations to provide the most desirable attributes for this specific application is likely to lead to variations that could outperform any existing materials. “We have a new material to work with, and we haven’t optimized it at all,” he says. “It’s completely tunable, and that’s what’s exciting.”

While there has been much research on MOFs, most of it has been directed at uses that take advantage of the materials’ record porosity, such as for storage of gases. “Our lab’s discovery of highly electrically conductive MOFs opened up a whole new category of applications,” Dincă says. Besides the new supercapacitor uses, the conductive MOFs could be useful for making electrochromic windows, which can be darkened with the flip of a switch, and chemoresistive sensors, which could be useful for detecting trace amounts of chemicals for medical or security applications.

While the MOF material has advantages in the simplicity and potentially low cost of manufacturing, the materials used to make it are more expensive than conventional carbon-based materials, Dincă says. “Carbon is dirt cheap. It’s hard to find anything cheaper.” But even if the material ends up being more expensive, if its performance is significantly better than that of carbon-based materials, it could find useful applications, he says.

This discovery is “very significant, from both a scientific and applications point of view,” says Alexandru Vlad, a professor of chemistry at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, who was not involved in this research. He adds that “the supercapacitor field was (but will not be anymore) dominated by activated carbons,” because of their very high surface area and conductivity. But now, “here is the breakthrough provided by Dinca et al.: They could design a MOF with high surface area and high electrical conductivity, and thus completely challenge the supercapacitor value chain! There is essentially no more need of carbons for this highly demanded technology.”

And a key advantage of that, he explains, is that “this work shows only the tip of the iceberg. With carbons we know pretty much everything, and the developments over the past years were modest and slow. But the MOF used by Dinca is one of the lowest-surface-area MOFs known, and some of these materials can reach up to three times more [surface area] than carbons. The capacity would then be astonishingly high, probably close to that of batteries, but with the power performance [the ability to deliver high power output] of supercapacitors.”

The research team included former MIT postdoc Dennis Sheberla (now a postdoc at Harvard University), MIT graduate student John Bachman, Joseph Elias PhD ’16, and Cheng-Jun Sun of Argonne National Laboratory. The work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy through the Center for Excitonics, the Sloan Foundation, the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, 3M, and the National Science Foundation.


Running head: H. R. 312 1

H.R. 312 “The Mars Exploration Act”

Kahlib J. Fischer

February 11, 2015

PADM 550-B01

Dr. Kahlib Fischer

H.R. 312 2

Defining the Problem

Space exploration has been limited since the moon landing to space station visits and the

deployment of the Hubble telescope and satellites (2015). In 2012, President Obama signed into

law H.R. 312, “The Mars Exploration Act” (2012). This bill provides funding for the

development and deployment of: 1) the “rovers”; 2) deep space transportation for humans; and 3)

laboratory and housing facilities on Mars (Robinson & Smith, 2012).


Biblical guidelines: Of course, the Bible says nothing about space exploration. Government is

charged primarily with protecting the inalienable rights of its citizens (Fischer). HR 312 does

not violate these rights. The Biblical notion of “sphere sovereignty” implies that there are other

spheres of society, such as non-profits and industry, which might be considered as participants in

space exploration (Monsma, 2008). In the past, space exploration has been linked to national

defense, for fear that other nations would gain the upper-hand in space and use that advantage

against American citizens (Neuhaus, 2012). Since government has a divine mandate to protect

its citizens, space exploration might be supported.

Constitutional guidelines: The “common defense” portion of the preamble supports passage of

this bill. Article 1 section 8 provides further points of support: the promotion of science and

progress, the development of a sound military, and the regulation of commerce with foreign



Political Feasibility: Generally, the public favors further mars exploration and colonization

(Smith, 2014). The passage of the bill was largely bi-partisan, but a significant Republican

minority tried to block passage arguing that the funding was not present for the bill and that the

H.R. 312 3

President was merely doing this to distract from criticism of his health care legislation and other

scandals (Neuhaus, 2012). Since passage, some experts have argued that Mars colonization is

not obtainable as NASA is currently constructed and has argued for either repeal of HR 312 or

significant modification (Richards, 2015).

Financial feasibility: Total cost of the bill was estimated at $20.5 billion, according to the

Congressional Budget Office (“H.R. 312”). At the time of passage, Democrats and Republicans

were grappling with the debt ceiling crisis (Barnes, 2011).

Practical feasibility: The bill was set up to fund NASA efforts for Mars exploration over 20

years. The major challenge was the development of sufficiently fast and safe space travel for

humans (Geyer, 2012). Rovers have been sent to Mars, so, in effect, Phase 1 has been achieved.

Significant challenges exist for phases 2 and 3, however, as NASA grapples with developing the

proper technology for long-term space exploration and colonization (Richards, 2015).


HR 312 passes the May portion of the analysis, with the caveat that government should allow for

business and non-profit participation. The Can portion of the analysis is more challenging,

simply because of current levels of deficit spending in the federal government as well as the

technological challenges. Nevertheless, HR 312 represents a legitimate area for government

involvement. Space exploration, if not simply for the sake of military defense, should continue

and thus government must be involved. We are not able to choose ideal times for something as

lofty and abstract as space exploration; yet it must remain a national priority.

H.R. 312 4


Barnes, A. (2011). The Debt ceiling crisis. National Review Online. Retrieved from


Fischer, K. Biblical principles of government [PDF document]. Retrieved from Lecture Notes

Online website: https://learn.liberty.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-6267706-dt-content-rid-



Geyer, A. (2012). To mars and beyond. Space. 15(1), 52-56. doi:10.1108/03090560710821161

H.R. 312 (2012). The Mars Exploration Act. Congressional Budget Office. Retrieved from


Monsma, S. (2008). Healing for a broken world. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Neuhaus, J. (2012). Mars madness. Space Exploration. Retrieved from


Richards, D. (2015). The Mars question. Journal of Science and Politics, 10(2), 38-42. Retrieved

from http://www.jsp.org

Robinson, J. & Smith, B. (2012). What does HR 312 mean for the future of space exploration?

Journal of Science and Politics, 4(2), 3-12. doi:10.1108/988890560710821161

Sires, D. (2015, October 9). Has NASA lost its way? Popular Science, 8, 27-29.

Smith, R. (2014). Does the public even care? Space Exploration. Retrieved from


  • Defining the Problem
  • May
  • Can
  • Should
  • References



“Making the


Persuasive summary of the key issues supporting your decision to support or reject the
legislation. This is where you as a political leader speak to the heart.

Explaining why this is worthy of being focused on by your party (in light of what the party
is trying to accomplish in Congress)

Make the case knowing that you might be making enemies for supporting (or opposing)
this piece of legislation

Politics is a battle of ideas and agendas—how are you going to make the case knowing
that you might make enemies, and knowing that if your party leadership focuses on your
legislation, it might mean that someone else’s agenda will be stymied?


 Is the piece of legislation
supported by Biblical principles?

 Is the piece of legislation in
keeping with the enumerated
powers listed in the

Political Feasibility: Does the bill have a chance of passing the House and Senate and
being signed by the President? What public opinion polls are relevant?

Financial Feasibility: How much would the legislation cost, particularly in light of current
budget constraints? What impact would there be on the economy?

Practical Feasibility: what are the key hurdles for implementing this legislation in terms of
timing, logistics, resources, and technology? As a lawmaker, you have to anticipate
those challenges in order to weigh the merits of the legislation.


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