The Government and Environmental Policy

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The Government and Environmental Policy

Political Science 215

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