Environmental Policies of the US
For the past few decades, the issue of environmental protection, climate change prevention and the application of alternative programs to improve sustainability had been in the frontlines as countries have been made aware of the dangers global warming poses to each person. Collective and unified action was immediately devised by many nations to combat global warming, while a few remained separated to the collective action on environmental protection. In the case of the United States, its environmental policies both for domestic and international purposes has shifted throughout the years as the US had begun to realize that it was more powerful in the front of international dominance as the only superpower. Regardless, the US’ environmental policies, albeit not at the same tone as with the international community in some instances, reflects the drive of the Americans to aid in the recovery of the environment and incorporate its own ideals to create a workable set of policies that can aid Americans in taking care of the environment.
According to Kelemen and Vogel (2009) and Harnisch, Frank and Maull (2011), the United States is both a prominent leader in environmental politics, and at the same time, a prominent contributor to the growing problem of climate change or global warming since the beginning of environmental awareness throughout the globe. Environmental awareness and its subsequent environmental policies and protocols in the US began in the 1970s in the dawn of research and scientific pronouncements over the importance of stopping global warming. Arms (2002) added that there were also already areas wherein the public had reported several counts of soil erosion and flooding, as well as the nature of waste management as Americans were not properly taught of proper waste management and still have yet to create modified plans to properly harness America’s land and water systems. Small policies were already created prior to the 1900s, however, it was not till the 1970s did the movements begin to flourish. American environmental interest groups and lobbyists used their pressuring power and reach to educate both policy-makers and the public regarding the importance of environmental politics. As a result of their continued efforts, the federal government had been prompted to adopt a very ambitious and strict set of environmental policies that would encompass America’s environmental situation. While the sentiment and intention is present, the first set of environmental policies were very strictly enforced and it became costly for the government to control and sustain, nonetheless it was also iconic. The US Environmental Protection Agency was also created after the celebration of the first Earth Day in 1970, enforcing most of America’s domestic and international environmental policies (see table 1).
Additional policies aside from the EPA’s establishment have been done to ensure enforcement such as the Clean Air and Water Acts (1960) are handled by each federal agency. The EPA was also tasked with handling standards to undermine the standards on pollutants, political and economic incentives, as well as the foundation of other standards to maintain environmental sustainability in the country. With their own domestic policy in place, the US then saw the importance of applying the same strategy in the international arena, coaxing other nations to follow the same strict effort and active enforcement of these environmental strategies while its own domestic policies sustain international agreements such as the United Nations Conference on Human Environment (1972), London Convention on Dumping at Sea (1972), and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (1987) . The US had also applied the Environmental Impact Statement policy throughout the government to ensure that important infrastructure would be evaluated under the EIS to ensure that the environment is not threatened in any way by the construction of the facility. The public had also been given the voice under the EIS and ensured infrastructure such as the Glen Canyon Dam built in the 1980s would not harm the Grand Canyon .
Cox and Stokes (2012) then added that the US government had also ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to conduct research to prove the importance of environmental politics and climate change to ensure that their efforts, as well as the international effort to combat climate change, is not in vain especially with the 1970 global cooling scare reports. Nonetheless, CIA had been able to prove that the reports of global warming are accurate as they have seen evidences that food production would deteriorate throughout the globe and the US would also be affected. The report had also emphasized to the United States to take up the leadership in the environmental arena would be crucial to promote its influence to other nations, especially in the field of environmental politics. With the environmental initiative already changing the nature of environmental protection in the US, the US’ international action on environmental politics would strengthen its role in the international arena as the main donor for food aid.
However, while the 1970s and the 1980s had indeed been the pioneer in beginning the domestic and international action on environmental politics and protection, their tone changed come the 1990s as the country had slowly realized that it should be concentrating on efforts that would further emphasize the US dominance. Environmentalists had lost their control over the American policy-makers and they have also noticed the shift in political strategy within the houses of Congress and Senate to concentrate further on political, economic and military dominance for the country. Since the decline has already been felt throughout the country, environmental policy-making in the country had also declined both for the domestic and international arena. In the international arena, the US had opposed many of the international action to strengthen global warming and environmental politics efforts, subsequently affecting how the US public would see the importance of environmental politics. The European Union had taken over the position of the US as the dominant and leading international actor in environmental politics as the US now further amplified their growing military, political and economic dominance throughout the globe. The US had also begun to ignore or decline environmental policies that would have stopped the US’ efforts to improve its own development as a superpower. Some of the major international environmental policies the US had rejected are the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, treaties that would have stopped America’s nuclear research and strategy .
In a domestic notion, the development of environmental policy in the US had changed considerably depending on the administration and the leading party controlling the legislative assemblies of the nation. For both Richard Nixon and Gerard Ford, Republican Presidents with Democrats handling their Congress and Senate, they had to compromise with the legislative body as they were forced to abide by environmental policies set by the Congress and Senate and enact them within their territories. Green interest groups and lobbyists from 1969 to 1976 were as strong as they were in the beginning of 1970s, enabling the country to adopt policies such as the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Clean Air Act Amendments (1970), the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976, and finally, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Acts of 1976. In the case of Jimmy Carter, he did not have trouble adapting to the policies set by the Democrat-led legislative assemblies. This enabled the Carter administration to create a flawless and sophisticated environmental policy that would sustain the previously administered policies and improve them with the establishment of the Clean Air and Water Act Amendments of 1977 and the “Superfund” of 1980, which would fund several programs designed to improve the environmental efforts of the US.
As the 1990s entered with a new administration, the US had yet again changed its tone over the environmental policy sector as environmentalists had yet again lost the support of the public and the policy-makers given the complaints of the business sector over the attention given by the administration over environmental protection. As a result, the US government had declined to improve or ratify bills that would help the environmental initiative of the US. Before the end of his tenure, George Bush had refused to accept the UN Conference on the Environment and Development of 1992 because it would be stricter than other policies for the industrial sector, which the US could not afford to lose at that point due to the economic crisis around the globe. He had also refused to sign the International Convention on Biodiversity, which would have protected many of America’s biodiversity and sustain many of the US environmental efforts already in place before his tenure. Bush had clearly shown in his tenure that he would only support policies that would also aid the American economy and anything that would have affected it would be rejected by his group. The same decline in environmental policy also happened when Bill Clinton took over the White House as his proposals were all rejected by the Congress. While his Vice President Al Gore had enabled Clinton to create workable policies in the field of environmental protection, both the Congress and the Senate had not approved the policies given that it would impact the country’s economy and they had also rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, designed to ensure that the carbon emission for countries like the US to reach a maximum emission decrease, which would be impossible for the US to concur without the Kyoto Protocol. In the assessment done by Environmental Health and Safety Online (1997), the US at the 1997s prior to the Kyoto Protocol had already emitted 6.6 tons or almost 15,000 pounds worth of greenhouse gases. Emissions continue to increase and according to the assessment, the sector that has contributed the most in the US’ greenhouse gas emissions is the industry sector (see table 2) .
The Clinton Administration was also seen to be quite weak in catching the attention of the Congress and the Senate in applying new means in supporting emission proposal goals from the international community, thereby making the US completely out of the picture when it comes to international environmental policy .
Similar decline had also been seen in the tenure of George W. Bush and his Republican-led Congress as they were mostly concentrated in improving the US’ political and economic reputation. Critics have immediately argued against the Bush administration for their lack of support for the environmental cause, especially upon their announcement of an environmental framework that would encompass the international community in 2007 as it would cut off the US’ emissions. It was also seen by many as an action by the US government to derail the EU efforts considering they are now the leaders in environmental protection in the international scene . Rahm (2010) had added that Bush and his Republican legislative department only concentrated itself in the aspect of improving political policies in such extent that it was seen by the international community as a threat to international efforts on improving environmental policies considering that the US has the capacity to influence each nation once they impose policies such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Emission Reduction System imposed to all nations under the UN. Bush had even used his political clout as President to reject the Kyoto Protocol in its entirety to ensure that his policies for economic and political improvement of the US would be sustained .
In the present administration, Eilperin (2010) had stated that the Obama Administration is now facing the brunt of domestic and international scrutiny when it comes to enforcing climate change and environmental protection policies that would both sustain the environmental situation throughout the globe and within the US. Regardless of which, the Obama Administration works closely in ensuring that the importance of creating legislation throughout the country for environmental protection is restored as the US Senate and the Congress only concentrates on other issues such as the economy and the political issues throughout the country, as well as the lingering war on terror. Eilperin had stated that with the lack of support from the legislative sector regarding the creation of environmental policies, the Obama Administration may find itself in a bind . Regardless of these hindrances and problems, Sohn (2013) had stated that the US under the Obama administration is now working on several policies that would change the overall US policy on environmental protection and climate change. The issue now concentrations on two things: the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and how would the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would create pipelines throughout the country, opening more means in using fossil fuel. To resolve these issues, a “Climate Finance Summit” set for the spring of the present year to develop a clear investment over climate finance throughout developing countries by 2020. There is also the proposed mandate of the EPA to ensure that GHG emissions are fully reduced within the year. While there are still challenges posed to the United States government regarding the imposition of these changes, there is a possibility that once these two issues are resolved by the Obama Administration, a significant change in the environmental battle would be possible .
With the growing demand for environmental protection, and the need to sustain the name as the “World’s Superpower”, the battle within the US regarding environmental protection is far from over as it continues to work on its policies while handling the challenges of policy-making. Regardless, one can still call the US a foremost leader in environmental policy as its drive had enabled the international community to also take into consideration the issue of the environment and apply it on their own methods. Internationally, they remain both as a leader and a contributor to the problem but they have nonetheless tried to device standards and policies that would help in combatting the issue. In the domestic aspect, the US still tries its best to include environmental policy, especially in the present context. Once the US had made its move over climate change and environmental protection, the rest of the globe is sure to follow and aid in sustaining the environment’s sustainability.
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