Making Environmental Policy / Edition 1

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Who speaks for the trees, the water, the soil, and the air in American government today? Which agencies confront environmental problems, and how do they set priorities? How are the opposing claims of interest groups evaluated? Why do certain issues capture the public's attention?

In Making Environmental Policy, Daniel Fiorino combines the hands-on experience of an insider with the analytic rigor of a scholar to provide the fullest, most readable introduction to federal environmental policymaking yet published. A committed environmental advocate, he takes readers from theory to practice, demonstrating how laws and institutions address environmental needs and balance them against other political pressures.

Drawing on the academic literature and his own familiarity with current trends and controversies, Fiorino offers a lucid view of the institutional and analytic aspects of environmental policymaking. A chapter on analytic methods describes policymakers' attempts to apply objective standards to complex environmental decisions. The book also examines how the law, the courts, political tensions, and international environmental agencies have shaped environmental issues. Fiorino grounds his discussion with references to numerous specific cases, including radon, global warming, lead, and hazardous wastes. Timely and necessary, this is an invaluable handbook for students, activists, and anyone wanting to unravel contemporary American environmental politics.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520089181
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 4/4/1995
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel J. Fiorino, who earned his Ph.D. in political science at Johns Hopkins University, has fifteen years' experience in national environmental policymaking and has published extensively on the topic.

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Table of Contents

1 Challenges 1
Institutional Challenges in Environmental Policy 3
Models of Public Policy 9
An Overview 17
2 Institutions I 22
The Statutory Framework 23
EPA as the Focus for Policy Making 36
The Regulatory Decision Process 48
Laws, Agencies, and Rule Making 59
3 Institutions II 61
Congress and Legislative Oversight 63
The White House and the Executive Branch 69
The Courts and Judicial Review 80
Intergovernmental Participants in Policy Making 84
Nongovernmental Influences on Policy 92
Citizen Participation as an Institutional Challenge 96
Institutional Analysis and Environmental Policy 97
4 Analyses 100
Risk Analysis and the Environment 101
Economic Analysis and the Environment 116
Issues in the Use of Risk Analysis and Economic Analysis 128
Analysis and the Environment 132
5 Problems 134
Some Characteristics of Environmental Problems 135
Defining Environmental Problems 141
Setting the Policy Agenda 151
Connections and Observations 165
6 Strategies 167
Policy Instruments 169
Strategies 188
A Strategy for Lead 196
Strategies and Policy Instruments 200
7 Prospects 202
The Environment, the Economy, and Democracy 204
Challenges and Trends in Environmental Policy 206
Visions of the Future 220
Rationality and Environmental Policy 224
Notes 227
Glossary 253
Selected Bibliography 257
Index 263
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First Chapter

Making Environmental Policy

By Daniel J. Fiorino

The University of California Press

Copyright © 1995 Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-08918-9

Chapter One


* * *

In the discussion of models of policy making, I compared the rational and incremental models. In the rational model, goals are clear and agreed upon; policy makers have complete and reliable data; problems are well defined; a full range of policy options is identified; effects of options are understood and predictable; and final choices maximize previously stated goals. All in all, this is not a bad image of how public policy should be made. We like to think of ourselves as logical and well informed, of our government institutions as well-oiled machines making sound choices, of policy as made up of well-reasoned outcomes furthering worthy social goals.

The incremental model offers a contrasting view of policy making. Here the goals may be unclear or in conflict; information is missing or unreliable; options may be poorly defined or ignored; policy emerges piecemeal, in fits and starts; and results often are different from what was intended. An incremental model presents a less appealing but more realistic view. Studies of several kinds of policy decisions-whether in budgeting, foreign policy, or other areas-support the conclusion that policy making is less rational and more incremental than wewould like it to be.

This is not to say that public policy making is irrational. Most institutions and policy makers probably aspire to be as rational as possible. But in a complex world, there simply are too many choices, reconciling too many different goals, based on too little information, made by too many people, to enable us to meet the high standards of the rational model. The best that we can achieve is Herbert Simon's concept of a bounded rationality, wherein we try to move as far from the incremental to the rational as we can.

Analysis is simply one way of extending the boundaries of rationality in public policy. When they use analysis to make decisions, policy makers try to understand the problems they are dealing with, the various constraints on their choices, how one way of responding to the problems compares to others that they might use, and the overall (for society) and specific (for groups in society) consequences of their decisions. In this chapter, I examine two kinds of analysis that play a role in environmental policy. The first is risk analysis, which estimates the harm of an activity, substance, or technology. The second is economic analysis, which calculates and predicts the costs and (sometimes) the benefits of different policy goals or decisions.

I begin with the concept of risk and the process that most government agencies use to analyze health risks. Then I turn to economic analysis and its uses in environmental policy making. The chapter concludes with a look at three of many issues that come up when we use risk and economic analysis in environmental policy.

Risk Analysis and the Environment

The concept of risk is central to environmental policy. Nearly any environmental problem can be seen as a matter of risk, which we can define simply as the possibility of suffering harm. Of course, risks are all around us, and they are not limited to environmental causes. Driving cars, making investments, climbing mountains, starting a small business-all of these expose us to physical, financial, psychological, or other risks. My focus here, though, is risk from contamination of air, soil, and water.

There are two dimensions to this notion of risk as the possibility of suffering harm. The first is the probability or likelihood of the harm; the second is the severity of the harm, its magnitude or significance. When we have a choice, most of us are inclined to avoid taking risks that pose highly probable and severe harm. Knowing that 1 in 10 of the people who try to scale Mount Everest die in the effort is enough to discourage most of us from the attempt, whatever the chance for glory. The odds are bad (1 in 10) and the harm (death) is one that most of us would regard as severe. The risk of someone in this country dying in a car accident in any year is a much lower 2 in 10,000. It is a risk nearly all of us have decided is worth taking. To compare some sources of everyday risk, consider table 5, which lists activities that pose a 1 in 1,000,000 increased chance of death in a year. Risk is all around us, often from unlikely sources.

Health Versus Ecological Risks

Environmental policy makers work in the context of two broad categories of risk. The first is the possibility of harm to human health-anything from eye irritation from air pollution to death from exposure to high levels of a toxic chemical. The object of concern is people and their well-being. We describe health risks according to several features: whether the effects are acute (immediate) or chronic (long-term), how serious they are, whether they are reversible, and the numbers and kinds of people that are affected. Society typically responds quickly to evidence of acute risks, because causes and effects usually are fairly easy to establish. Most of the debate is over chronic risks, where relationships between causes and effects are harder to establish. There is uncertainty about the sources of problems-or whether there is a problem at all.

Until recently, it was likely that when environmental policy makers referred to a chronic health risk they meant cancer. The concern about cancer has dominated government risk assessment. The state of the art for assessing cancer risks is ahead of that for other chronic risks. When agencies justify regulatory action, they usually base their case on cancer, as there is more research and data to draw on. Politically, a focus on cancer has helped environmental agencies generate public support for their programs. To ancients and moderns alike, James T. Patterson has written, cancer has been seen as "voracious, insidious, and relentless." By casting itself as a cancer protection agency in the late 1970s, EPA was able to sustain public support for its programs in troubled economic times. For all of these reasons, cancer has dominated the regulatory policy agenda.

Yet many noncancer health effects should concern us as well. The causes include common pollutants, for example, lead, which is pervasive in contemporary society. Exposure to lead may impair children's physical and mental development and cause high blood pressure in white males. Another example is ozone, which forms when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from cars and industrial sources react with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight. Ozone causes short-term respiratory problems and stresses the cardiovascular system. Long-term exposure may impair lung function permanently. The list of noncancer but chronic threats to health goes on; we can expect that policy makers will give more attention to such risks in the years to come, as the methods for studying them improve and concern about them grows. Table 6 lists several types of noncancer health effects that have been linked to environmental pollution and an example of each.

Another major category of risk is harm to ecological resources. When many people think of environmental protection, they probably are more likely to think of ecological than health risks. Fish thriving in a clean river, a clear view of the Grand Canyon, an untainted estuary full of shellfish, a white beach with no litter in sight, a tropical rain forest with tremendous diversity in its plant and animal species-all describe ecological resources worth protecting. Of course, health and ecological risks may overlap. Contaminated fish may pose health as well as ecological risks. But other problems, like emissions from a power plant that impair visibility in a park, are largely aesthetic and ecological. The distinctions between health and ecological risks are important, even when they occur as part of the same problem. They pose different kinds of questions and present choices among diverse, often competing values. They also require different methods for estimating risks and evaluating benefits.

The differences between health and ecological risk assessment result mainly from the greater variety in the forms of life affected and the many endpoints (the range of bad things that may happen) for ecological risks. When assessing health risks, we analyze the effects on human health. For ecological risks, we look at a variety of receptors-birds, plants, ecosystems, and so on. In addition, the endpoints are more diverse in the case of ecological risks and may include the effects on organisms, populations, habitat, natural systems, and others. Ecologists account for levels of ecological organization. They sort living systems into organisms, single-species populations, multispecies communities, and ecosystems. Risks are assessed at each level.

This discussion focuses on health risks; that is where risk assessment has been used the most to make environmental policy. But interest in understanding and assessing ecological risks has been growing. Increasingly, policy makers recognize what EPA's Science Advisory Board has described as "the vital links between human life and natural ecosystems." It often is necessary to distinguish health from ecological risks for analytical purposes, but the connections between the two are strong. The next section looks at perceptions of risk. Following that is a closer look at the process of assessing health risks in environmental policy.

How Do People Perceive Risks?

The study of attitudes toward risks, their acceptability, and people's behavior in response to what they think is harmful is the field of risk perception. Much of the research on risk perception focuses on psychological factors. Some of it also examines the sociological and cultural influences on risk perception, which are especially important from the perspective of public policy. These cultural factors help to explain many of the differences between the lay public's intuitive evaluations and the formal evaluations of risk by experts. We will look first at individual perception of risk, then at social and cultural influences on risk perception.

As for individual perceptions of risks, experimental psychologists have compared statistical (based on quantitative studies) to perceived risks. In one study, people were asked to estimate the frequency of deaths that resulted from forty-one causes, among them, disease, natural disasters, accidents, homicides, and recreation (like mountain climbing). The answers revealed differences between what people thought was risky and what actually was risky. People overestimated the risks of death from unusual, catastrophic, or lesser-known sources (such as nuclear power plants); they underestimated the risks of death from common, better-known, or discrete causes (such as driving). The public's negative views toward nuclear power are shaped by the tendency to attribute high risk to lesser-known problems that could have catastrophic effects. Similarly, rare causes of death attract more attention. Botulism, for example, accounts for about five deaths a year in the United States, but the respondents in one survey thought it caused five hundred. Because deaths from botulism are reported in the media, people are more aware of them and tend to exaggerate their occurrence.

People's perceptions of risks affect their views about the acceptability of different kinds of risk. Consider the differences between perceptions of voluntary and involuntary sources of risk. The risk perception research shows that people are more willing to tolerate risks they assume voluntarily than risks that are imposed on them by others without their consent. This explains why some people might oppose a decision to site a waste incinerator near their homes yet not be concerned with the greater statistical risks of smoking or not using seat belts. They smoke or do not use seat belts by choice.

People are also far more concerned about risks that are unknown, dreaded, or seen as catastrophic than risks that are better known or discrete (occurring in a large number of small events rather than in one major event). The public's intuition about catastrophic events may have a solid foundation. An example is a catastrophic accident in one community, whose effects led to what has become known as the "Buffalo Creek Syndrome." The collapse of a slag waste dam in Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, some years ago left 120 people dead and 4,000 homeless. Nearly two years later, when psychiatric evaluators studied the survivors, they found evidence of "disabling character changes" and the sense of a "loss of communality" among them, including a loss of direction and energy. Studies showed similar effects after the Three-Mile Island accident, even though there was no apparent physical damage. So attitudes about risk may reflect concerns about social stability and cohesion, about effects on communities, not just individuals.

The lesson of much of the research is that people do not react to risk in a state of social or cultural isolation. Shared values and a sense of community come into play. For example, people's views about the acceptability of various kinds of risks reflect their judgments about the institutions that manage risks in society. If people doubt the trust-worthiness of a corporation that is proposing to build a waste incinerator, or the objectivity of the government agency that will issue an operating permit, they will be skeptical about any evidence that they face negligible risks when the incinerator starts operating. People also evaluate risks on the basis of perceived fairness in their distribution. If a local government decides to build a landfill in a poor community and if the waste was produced mostly by a more affluent community in another part of town, we can expect more opposition based on the clear inequities of the decision. If a community views the result of a decision and the process for making it as fair, it is more likely to accept the result.

Why does all of this matter in a discussion of analyses? Because there is a gap between the products of the experts in quantitative risk assessment and the informal, more intuitive evaluations of risk by the lay public. As the next section shows, formal risk assessments follow a linear, quantitative path. Risk is defined as a probability of harm times its consequences. Public perceptions of risk, in contrast, are based more on people's attitudes regarding voluntariness, effects on the community, familiarity with the source of the risk, perceptions of fairness in the distribution of risk, and public confidence in the institutions that are managing the risks. The reaction of many experts is that the lay public is not acting rationally, that their intuitive evaluations are not as valid as the methodologically sophisticated risk assessments of the experts. Yet there may be more to the public's perceptions than the experts are willing to recognize.


Excerpted from Making Environmental Policy by Daniel J. Fiorino Copyright © 1995 by Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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