The Comparative Analysis of State Environmental Policy

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The Comparative Analysis of State Environmental Policy

Environmental Policy


This is a particularly exciting time to study environmental politics and policy in the fifty American states. Federal environmental policy in the period from 1969 (when the National Environmental Policy Act was enacted) to 1990 has had a significant impact on the states as a result of specific requirements, monetary incentives, and environmental quality standards. During the 1990s, it is reasonable to predict that much effort will be devoted to implementation by the states of federal environmental policies enacted during the 1970s and 1980s. Thus, as a first order of business, it is important to assess the extent to which the states have successfully implemented these federal policies (or not) and the determinants of this behavior in an era of “regulatory federalism.”‘ Secondly, the Reagan administration’s policy of “devolution and defunding” augers change in approach and priority and could undermine what progress has been achieved to date in the environmental area.

Whether the states have continued the same level of support for pollution control after the federal government reduced its contribution is a proposition that needs further examination.’ At the very least, the Reagan administration’s decentralization policy suggests an increased emphasis on the role of the states in environmental management; empirical assessments of the extent to which the states have met this challenge would provide much insight into the politics and economics of the states themselves. In addition, the states have recently enhanced their institutional capabilities to assure greater responsiveness for environmental management (as well as other areas).’ Presumably, states are no longer the “weak link” in the intergovernmental system.

It would be interesting to examine the extent to which strengthened institutions at the state level have resulted in more innovative state environmental actions. Thus, for all these reasons, it is an appropriate time to examine the extent to which the states have assumed responsibilities in the environmental area, as well as the determinants of this behavior. The purpose of this article is to review and critique much of the previous environmental politics and policy literature, as well as to provide an agenda for the future study of this area by students concerned with state environmental management.

The analysis proceeds in four parts. First, we briefly review some of the extant literature on state environmental management. Second, we identify some criticisms of research in this area (as well as comparative state policy in general). Next, we provide some suggestions that we think will improve the study of comparative state environmental policy in the future. Finally, we offer some summary observations about the utility of research in this area for advancing our theoretical understanding of state politics and policy more generally.

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