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The Government And Environmental Policy Essay, Research Paper

The Government and Environmental Policy

The purpose of the United States’ public policy law is to implement restrictions

in an effort to solve problems, which can be seen with the Clean Water Act.

Public policy has also been employed to reform the Endangered Species Act of

1973. Although the United States government is noble in it’s efforts to

preserve the environment through these acts, the internal structure of public

policy often retards these acts’ effectiveness. This paper will explore the

many ways in which factors such as horizontal implementation, divided government,

and other forms of public policy affect the environmental legislation involved

with the aforementioned acts. The main factors involved with the Endangered

Species Act of 1973 involve horizontal implementation structure and divided

government. Before one can discuss how these policies affect environmental

legislation, a brief description of each must first be lucidly explained. When

our government was founded, a system of checks and balances was implemented

between the executive, judicial, and legislative branches to ensure that no one

part of government gets too much power. Although this limits the power of any

one person in government, it often slows down the ability of government because

a consensus can be difficult with so many people working together. Another

problem is that there are many subgovernments affecting the legislation as well,

such as interest groups like the Sierra Club, Administrative Agents like the

Environmental Protection Agency, and Congressional Committees. Because these

groups add to the total number of people working on the legislation, the

original noble ideology of making policy for the good of the nation is voided.

Also because there are so many differences of opinion, few drastic changes are

made, instead small incremental changes are made which take up lots of time and

retard the effectiveness and enforcement of the legislation. In addition to

this chaotic turmoil, four steps must be implemented in order to pass a bill.

These are initiation & definition, formulation & enactment (legitimation),

implementation, and evaluation.

The most relevant one of these steps is horizontal implementation when one

considers the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act. This policy is the

process that puts a law into effect after it has been legitimized. Congress and

the President set up the initial regulation of the law, but the direct

responsibility of regulation is turned over to the states involved. And, of

course, workset-like incentives such as taxes, fees, allowances, refunds, and

liability are used to enforce the laws effectively.

Horizontal implementation refers specifically to implementation with the federal

government, as opposed to vertical implementation which is at the state and

local levels. There are several specific concerns with horizontal

implementation which include the breakdown of coordination due to the large

structure of the federal government, language difficulties, lack of control due

to the threat of success by one particular agency, different perspectives, and

direct change of intention due to factors such as voter pressure. It’s amazing

that in the midst of all this that anything can be accomplished at all, but

thanks to the drive to be re-elected, things have to get done on the federal

level or else the person in question will be renounced from power.

So now that a foundation of the processes controlling these acts has been

established, the question arises, what exactly is the Endangered Species Act?

As one author puts it, “The Endangered Species Act of 1973, perhaps more than

any other environmental law, dares to draw an unwavering line in the path of

American progress. It boldly says in essence, ‘Thou shalt not cause any

species of plant or animal to go extinct.’ As the rampart transformation of

natural America for exurban development, water-division projects, and timber

cutting- pushes more and more species to the wall, the act is embroiled in

controversy unparalleled since its passage 19 years ago.” (Horton, pg. 68) A

few other factors of definition come into play when one considers the

intricacies of the Act. An animal is endangered if it is in danger of becoming

extinct throughout all or most of it’s natural range in the wild. An animal is

threatened if it is very likely to fall into the endangered category in “the

foreseeable future”. Endangered species have the possibility of generating

boundless resources for the human race including medical uses, research purposes,

and atmospheric contributions- namely oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis.

The act also sets aside land to protect endangered species. For example, many

acres of old growth forest have been set aside in an effort to preserve the

Northern spotted owl. So far, the act has been successful in helping to re-

establish populations of the American alligator, the California condor, the

Black-footed ferret, and many species of endangered sea turtles. But hundreds

of other species are waiting to be helped by the act, at a prospective cost of

$4.6 billion. The reasons for the inefficiency of the act are as numerous as

the numbers of threatened & endangered species involved in the controversy. Much

of the criticism has been directed toward the Fish and Wildlife Service for not

setting up an effective program. “The agency ‘has underestimated the size of

the job and been backward about asking for enough resources,’ says Bill Reffalt,

of the Wilderness Society, who worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service for 23

years. He says that only in the last year has his old agency recovered fully

from the aggressive dismantling of endangered- species protection by the Reagan

administration during the 1980’s.

Nonetheless, the law is ‘fundamentally sound’ contends Michael J. Bean of the

Environmental Defense Fund. ‘The failure of the law is funding. Congress never

appropriated enough to let the Fish and Wildlife Service make more than a small

dent in what was supposed to be done’, Bean says.” (Horton, pg. 71) As the

above quote clearly shows, the dissension between the different branches of

government and different administrations associated with these branches can

cripple the legislation necessary to pass an act such as the Endangered Species

Act. But through years of slow compromising, a consensus has been reached, and

the regulations were set down with appropriate laws for enforcement.

In summary, the act states that it is unlawful to do the following activities:

Import or export any endangered or threatened species; harming, taking, trapping,

or harassing any protected species; possessing, selling, or distributing any

protected species; and no federal agency may in any way jeopardize the existence

of a protected species. Violations of these laws can result in $100,000 in

fines and/or up to a year in prison, and organizations can be fined up to

$200,000 and lose any equipment involved in the violation. A source from the

internet states, “The Interior Secretary or the Secretary of Commerce may impose

civil penalties ranging from $500 to $25,000 for violations of the ESA. The

Justice Department may seek criminal penalties of $25,000 to $50,000 and 6 to

12 months in jail against violations of the ESA.” What this shows is that even

though the road to legislation is rocky and littered with many retarding factors

including horizontal implementation structure and divided government problems,

once the bill is established as law it is absolute and extremely effective if

enforced by the courts. It does create other problems such as the kind of

situation where a zoo wants to import or export an endangered or threatened

species for the purpose of captive propagation, but as long as ratifications

are possible through government, snags and loopholes can be rectified. The Clean

Water Act of 1972 (one year prior to the Endangered Species Act) is another law

which demonstrates the problems associated with passing a bill. Like the ESA,

the act helps preserve endangered and threatened species, but it’s primary

purpose is to sustain the quality of the environment by keeping our waters free

from pollutants as much as possible. Unfortunately, the processes of public

policy get in the way of the noble intentions of the act. One of the methods of

evaluating public policy is to use a decision tree to make a cost/benefit

analysis when the outcome of the act is unclear. Similar to cost analysis, the

probability of the benefits are compared with the probability of costs, but

this process is ongoing and is very difficult to calculate. Of course for a

public policy to be approved, an overall benefit to society must be ascertained,

and in the case of the Clean Water Act, it was determined that the benefit of

environmental protection outweighed the economic costs associated with the

program. The three types of public policy programs are distributive,

redistributive, and regulatory. Distributive involves grants, and the

subsidies are given for protection of specific interests. Redistributive

involves heavy concern with governmental economics. And Regulatory involves the

changing of individual detrimental behaviors by imposing certain standards.

All three policies were in agreement with each other when the Clean Water Act

was passed. And like the ESA, the four steps of initiation & definition,

legitimation, implementation, and evaluation were necessary. Economic concerns

prevented the act from first becoming a reality in 1968 by President Nixon. At

that time he stated, “I am also concerned, however, that we attack pollution in

a way that does not ignore other very real threats to the quality of life, such

as spiraling prices and increasing onerous taxes. Legislation which would

continue our efforts to raise water quality, but which would do so through

extreme and needless overspending, does not serve the public interest. There

is a much better way to get this job done.” (Adler, pg. 1)

The Act’s goals as set forth by Congress was to eliminate toxic discharge into

significant bodies of water by 1985, improve water quality for marine and

freshwater life by 1983, and for all “toxic pollutants in toxic amounts” into

water. Of course that act has had mediocre success, and only through continued

cooperation of the government’s branches will further progress be made. In

conclusion, it has been shown how different branches of government, different

administrations, and different policies all worked together to retard the

implementation of the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act of the

early 1970’s. Although these processes do act in a system of governmental

checks and balances as the founders of this country wished, the effectiveness of

the acts take many years of careful compromising to become significant.


1. Adler, Robert W., et. al. The Clean Water Act 20 Years Later

Island Press Washington, D.C. 1993

2. Horton, Tom “The Endangered Species Act: Too tough, too weak, too

late.” (1992) Audubon Vol. 94 pgs. 68-74

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