policy issue could serve to illustrate the significant themes, but environmental protection places them in particularly bold relief. It involves an extremely broad range of scientific information, including most of the physical, biological, and social sciences. The questions of risk and uncertainty that it presents are especially subtle. Furthermore, the environment provides an excellent example of what happens when these problems merge with other profound philosophical and political dilemmas. Our relationship with the environment raises fundamental issues about who we are and what we care about. It challenges a basic belief of industrial society; namely, that mastery of nature is mankinds greatest project. It may force a choice between health and beauty on the one hand and prosperity on the other. It requires us to consider our relationships not only to fellow humans but to plants and animals as well.
First of all, an agency like EPA has substantial power, because of its expertise and its formal authority. Even when disputing its findings, all parties to a controversy often find themselves focusing on the information and analysis that EPA provides. The Environmental Protection Agency is unique among environmental regulatory agencies in that it deals with both public health and resource management issues. Its comprehensive authority is reflected in its position in the Executive Branch. It is the only regulatory agency whose administrator reports directly to the President. No single agency, however, can be understood in isolation. It is constantly influencing, and being influenced by, the courts, interest groups, the Congress, and other parts of Executive Branch.
Our story really begins with the great movement to the suburbs after World WarII. Hoards of upwardly mobile white-collar workers left crowded cities for localities with clean air, gardens, and grass. However, the reality of suburban life smog, traffic jams and strip development too often left this rural fantasy unrealized. At the same time some rural folk watched with dismay as their small towns became urbanized. The population was becoming younger; more secure financially, and better educated. Between 1950 and 1974 the percentage of adults with some college education rose from 13.4 to 25.2%. This was coupled with a streak of unprecedented prosperity. Prosperity, leisure, mobility, and greater understanding of physical and biological science combined to create a new awareness of, and interest in, the natural world.
The translation of widespread but unfocused public concern into specific policies and programs was shaped by the political institutions of the time. The characteristics of these institutions decisively affected the form and the content of the public debate about environmental questions, and the results that were obtained. The changes that occurred in political parties, in the media, and in the environmental community were of particular importance.
Political Parties: Democrats confronted a decline in union membership and in the number of small farmers and a decrease in party loyalty among traditionally Democratic groups. Republicans were suffering from the continued depopulation of the smaller cities and town and rural areas. Each party saw its salvation in the suburbs. There resided the young, well-educated voters who were to become the foundation of environmentalism.
Rural democrats deeply appreciated the public works projects that had brought electricity to their homes, paved roads to their doorstep, and saved heir land from the dual ravages of flood and drought. They were upset at the new criticism of such projects, as were the construction unions whose members built these same dams and roads. Republicans too were torn. Environmentalism risked antagonizing their traditional friends in the business community. Fiscal conservatives and opponents of government intrusion were also upset by demands for increased public and private spending on pollution control. Leaders in both parties sought to frame environmental programs to avoid these divisions. The resulting incoherence in the design of environmental programs was therefore due in part to the ambivalent motivations that produced them.
Media: The second important development was the growing role of television news. Potentially very profitable, the news is substantially cheaper to produce than entertainment programs, and widely viewed. Local competition is especially intense because the local news is often the first show viewers watch each evening. This gives stations an opportunity to capture viewers for the entire evening. It has become industry gospel that a good news segment must have (1) visual interest, (2) a strong story line, and (3) viewer identification with its outcome.
Environmental stories meet all three requirements. Oil covered birds, belching smoke stacks, rusting storage drums, and inspection crews in moonsuits are all visually compelling. Environmental stories have the particular advantage that often the crew can set up at its leisure and have plenty of vivid footage to show in newscasts. This is not to say that media journalists concoct environmental stories. They do, however, have powerful incentives to accentuate their pictorial and dramatic qualities. As a result, viewers repeated encounter such disputes as life threatening contests between good and evil.
Environmental Movement: The third important development involved the evolution of the environmental movement. Some environmental organization, The Sierra Club (1892), the Audubon Society (1905), the Wilderness Society (1935), and the National Wildlife Federation (1936), have existed for decades and have large numbers of members whose dues support their activities. But in the early 1970s, they were joined by newer organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). These had fewer members and relied on grants from foundations for their sustenance. From the outset, their main goal was to influence governmental policy.
EPAs purpose is to ensure that:
All Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.
National efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information.
Federal laws protecting human health and the environment are enforced fairly and effectively.
Environmental protection is an integral consideration in US policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy.
All parts of society communities, individuals, business, state and local governments have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks.
Environmental protection contributes to making our communities and ecosystems diverse, sustainable and economically productive.
The United States plays a leadership role in working with other nations to protect the global environment.
The domain of quality of life provides the proper strategic focus from EPA.
This point of view does not ignore health or distributive justice but it places them in a wider perspective, one that EPA is well situated to offer.
The concerns that comprise quality of life were critical elements of the early political mobilization for environmental improvement. They have reemerged in recent years due to three major factors: a heightened awareness of the damage that pollution does to recreation and aesthetics; a renewed consciousness of the role that land use and location decisions play in environmental policy making; and an increasing concern for the problem of residuals management. To focus on quality of life: What should be spent, required, forbidden, or provided to improve the quality of life in this or that place through increased environment protection efforts?
This formulation emphasizes that the aim of the agency ought to be to improve the lot of actual people living in real places. It implies that finding places to put garbage and keeping beaches free of debris may well be more important than trying to reduce a statistical cancer risk from slightly more to slightly less than one in a million.
This strategic formulation not only guides the deployment of limited agency resources, it also instructs the choice of whom it is most important to coordinate activities with. It implies that those parts of government that share the agencys focus upon the physical condition of cities and towns the department of Housing and Urban Development; the Department of Transportation; and the other federal, state, and local housing, transportation, industrial development, and urban recreation agencies are EPAs most important policy partners.
What kind of questions do citizens like us should encourage to ask EPA reflecting critical features of reality? Encouraging and assisting citizens to determine the future character of peoples community facilitates real deliberation about how a community should integrate a concern for environment safety with the other objectives it seeks. EPAs ability to structure the debate and supply pertinent information can help citizens to recognize that the most important question to be asked and the decisions to be made about the environment are political, not technical.
This focus will also encourage the agency to be strategically responsive. If the key issues appear to be technical, as in how best to prevent cancer, they provide no real grounds for political debate. But Democrats and Republicans can and ought to provide alternative visions of what quality of life means and how best to achieve it. By articulating their point of view about this vital matter, EPAs leaders can be made meaningfully accountable and can provide a foundation upon which to build stronger and more durable support for the party they represent.
Achieving any environmental result efficiently and effectively requires government to combine various kinds of professional and functional expertise. To get attention paid to specific consequences, all those same consequences have to be someones responsibility. At EPA, the appropriate specialists need to feel first and foremost that they are responsible for the final environmental result, not just for their narrow functions or specific activities. To do this, they must be brought together in the early stages of developing a rule, a standard, or a legislative proposal, thereby insuring that all the options, and their ramifications, can be fully appreciated. Technical experts who understand the relevant natural systems and engineering alternatives must interact with lawyers and management specialists to produce a program that will function effectively in human as well as technical terms. This collaboration should occur in an atmosphere that encourages an open exchange of views on both means and ends, an exchange in which strategic options are clarified.
This journey through such complex political and bureaucratic detail was intended to convey a simple idea. A democratic society produces citizens as much as it does goods or services. In a country like the United States, with so much freedom, technological dynamism, and decentralized initiative, there will always be problems adapting to growth and change. Citizens learn about their world and define their political relationships to each other as they struggle with such new problems as how much is owed to the ill, and what types of risks are to be considered illegitimate. These policy deliberations are the classrooms of the republic.
Finally, government played an important role in cultivating new understandings of international relations and racial inequality. It can do the same with the realities of environmental protection. I admire the energy and public-spiritedness of the agency officials. Exactly because I have such respect for them we have tried to offer a sophisticated and complex view of the role that public officials can play in getting to the future Americans wish for themselves and their children.
Landy, Mark K. (1990) The Environmental Protection Agency. New York: Oxford University Press. Chapter 1-2,10
Douglas, Carter. (1964) Power in Washington. New York: Random House.
Hugh, Heclo. Issue Networks and the Executive Establishment, in Anthony King, ed., the New American Political System (Washington D.C.: The American Enterprise Institute, 1978) 87-124.
Epstein, Edward, News From Nowhere: Television, Politics, and the News (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1975).