SOCS 629
Environmental Policy and Politics

Marc Eisner

Course Description

Environmental protection policy is the most costly, and many would suggest, the most important regulatory responsibility in the United States and other wealthy democracies. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the largest of all federal regulatory agencies, with a budget of approximately $7.8 billion. This figure grossly understates the nation’s commitment to environmental protection insofar as it does not include state and local regulatory budgets and, more importantly, the costs of compliance. The commitment to environmental protection reflects many factors, including the high levels of public support, effective political advocacy, and the inherent importance of the policy area. The EPA has no shortage of critics. Yet, there is much evidence that its regulatory efforts have contributed to significant gains in environmental quality. In the last three decades there have been considerable achievements in the control of air and water pollution and solid and toxic wastes. Despite public opinion poll data revealing a widespread belief that little progress has been made in the environment and things are likely to get worse in the future, environmental protection regulation has been remarkably successful.

A few caveats are in order, however. First, to say that public policy has performed well is not to conclude that gains have been achieved in a cost effective manner. There is much evidence of excessive costs imposed by regulatory design and a failure to allocate scarce resources in a rational manner. Second, while the EPA has been an important part of the story, environmental gains reflect a far more complex set of forces, including changes in corporate practices and the emergence of new technologies. Third, despite the past record, there is much to suggest that the current system of environmental regulation has run its course. Further gains may depend on the success in moving to new models of regulation, public-private collaboration, and government-supervised self-regulation. Fourth, recent decades have witnessed the rise of new global environmental problems that cannot be effectively addressed within the confines of the nation-state. Success in managing problems like global climate change will depend on progress in international institution-building.

This seminar provides a broad overview of environmental policy. Participants will gain an understanding of the justifications for environmental protection, the core features of US environmental regulations, recent reforms in regulatory policy-making, alternatives to the prevailing system, and the complexities of extending regulation into the international arena.

Course Readings
Norman J. Vig and Michael E. Kraft, Environmental Policy: New Directions for the Twenty-First Century, 6th Edition (Congressional Quarterly Press, 2005). 1-933116-01-3

Judith Layzer, The Environmental Case, 2nd Edition (Congressional Quarterly Press, 2005). 1-56802-898-9

Most of the readings will be drawn from other sources, including the EPA, think tanks, and policy journals. With a few exceptions, these sources can be accessed via the internet through the hypertext links in the syllabus. In most cases, you will need to use Adobe Acrobat Reader (for .pdf files). This program is available as a free download from

Course  Grade
The grade will be determined as follows:

Written case analyses (4)     60%
Seminar presentation      10%
Final essay     %30

Key Components of the Grade

Case Analyses (60 percent)
Over the course of the semester, each participant will be required to submit analyses of four cases discussed in class. At the end of the class, I will email a question on the case to members of the class. Your response must be submitted via email attachment (Microsoft Word) within one week of the class in question. Analyses should be no longer than 3 pages (single spaced). The length of your analysis (assuming that it falls within the 3 page limit) is not as important as the quality of the argumentation, your success in covering all major points, and exhibiting a mastery of the material. In grading your analyses, I will consult a list of the major points that should be included in a credible response. If your paper includes other points, I will evaluate them and potentially award additional credit. However, the grade will be based primarily on the question asked, the materials presented in the case, the relevant theoretical materials covered in class and class readings, and the quality of your response. You should write in paragraph form with complete sentences (e.g., no bullets or outlines). The background on the case need not be included in your analysis. If you missed the session for which the case was assigned, you may not submit an analysis.

Seminar Presentation (10 percent)
Each participant will be required to introduce a set of readings at one point during the semester. The presentation—not to exceed five minutes—should provide a brief critique of the readings and identify useful questions for discussion. It should be accompanied by a set of questions for discussion (approximately 1 page). Bring twenty copies for distribution to the class.

Final Paper (30 percent)
The course will conclude with a final paper to be written on the future of environmental protection. The specific question will be distributed mid-way through the semester.

Topics to be Addressed by Week
Week 1 Course introduction
Week 2 Competing visions of the environment: from property rights to Gaia
Week 3 Do we regulate enough? Public opinion, risk, and the environment
Week 4 The Environmental Protection Agency
Week 5 Clean Air, Clean Water, Clean Earth: Policy Performance
Week 6 The Revolt against Regulation: Retrenchment, Reform, and Reinvention
Week 7 The Bush Record:  The Neo Cons(ervationists)
Week 8 Alternatives to Command and Control Regulation
Week 9 Corporate Environmentalism, Associational Self-regulation, and Regulatory Hybrids
Week 10 Global Environmental Policy: the Challenges
Week 11 Regulating the Ozone Hole and Global Climate Change
Week 12  Sustainable Development: A Concept in Search of Content?