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Report on Environmental Politics of the USA

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Since the second half of the 20th century, public attention has been focused on environmental issues. The world community has realized that natural resources are not unlimited, and pollution of any kind has serious consequences. Since the Rio Earth Summit, protection of the environment has become one of the most salient issues for the world community. In the struggle for preserving the planet, the USA as a political and economic leader has taken its strong position. Therefore, environmental protection has become of immense importance for the U.S. political course. That is the reason why the main question of this report is the environmental policy of the USA. This paper seeks to discuss the main policy tools and branches of authority, and their political course and actions, major environmental laws passed in the USA since the beginning of the 20th century, and estimate current political environment course of President Barack Obama. This paper also seeks to find ways of improving the environmental course of the United States and define which environmental problems are the most important and urgent.

IntroductionThe attention of American public rarely remains focused solely on one domestic issue for a long time, even if it involves a problem of immense importance to society. However, in the past few decades, there has been a remarkable interest in the environment situation. Since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the world community has been working even more, in order to provide an effective development course for different countries of the world to improve the current environmental situation. Therefore, the U.S. as one of the most powerful countries in the world has no other option, but to find the most progressive solution to the following problems.

This paper seeks to determine the main policy tools and authority branches which take part in establishing the U.S. course in environmental protection and law enforcement, analyze main environmental laws passed in the USA since its independence, and discuss and give assessment to Barack Obama’s Environmental political course. This will help to establish the profound understanding and prognosis as to how environmental policy of the USA might be developing in the next couple years.

The environment protection as a political issue was defined in the second half of the 20th century.  Nowadays, one can admit that questions of environmental policy are notoriously difficult to resolve as the pervasive essence of the problems, their variety, as well as the encompassing range of professional and social interests involved create an intractable complexity. The competing arguments are not only in that they represent the opposing interests, but also because of differences in disciplinary, institutional, and social discourses.

U.S. Environmental Policy ToolsThe U.S. policy on the environment is a federal governmental action aimed to regulate the impact on the environment of the USA. The main objective of environmental policy in the U.S. is to establish appropriate conditions, in order to protect the environment and reduce interference with the liberty of people and efficiency of commerce to decrease inequity in those who are involved with costs for environment.  This policy was influenced by the U.S. environmental movement in the second half of the 20th century, which promoted several laws considering regulating water, land and air pollution. Moreover, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) was created in 1970 and was passed into law by President Richard Nixon with an aim of protecting human health and environment (Herndl and Brown 1996).

Owing to the high costs of these regulations, there have been opposing businesses and politicians which influence limiting budgets and slow political actions which are aimed to protect the environment. Since 1970, despite the opposing actions, some significant achievements have been established.  Modifications to the environmental policy of the USA have boon proposed, but such efforts have not much progress (Wallace 1995).

The U.S. Constitution was designed in order to maintain the balance of powers between the legislative brunch, represented by the Senate and the House of Representatives, which together make up Congress, the executive brunch led by the President, and the judicial branch. As a matter of fact, the EPA as the most influential environmental agency does not possess absolute power here. Therefore, the U.S. authority concerning governmental issues is fragmented between the three brunches mentioned above. Virtually, most executive departments are authorized to manage environmental projects and laws. This somewhat contributes to the questionable efficacy and cost of the environmental regulation in the U.S (Wallace 1995).

Fragmentation within this brunch is duplicated within states and in Congress. As a matter of fact, the EPA is a concern for most of the committees in the House of Representatives, and more than two-thirds of subcommittees in the Senate. More than 70 committees are in charge of water control policy, for instance. Such kind of fragmentation often results in both problems and opportunities. The division of tasks results in defragmentation in committees’ work, but also provides significant access for environmental groups to lobby. 

Two main U.S. policy tools aimed to protect the environment are inducements and rules. The USA uses rules through regulation which can come in the form of performance and design standards. Performance standards are able to identify the emission levels and determine how they are met. Design standards exactly are able to specify the meeting of performance standards (Broder 2013).

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Moreover, the U.S. government uses “market reforms” or inducements. Inducements are defined as punishments and rewards used in order to influence groups or certain people. There are two principal types of “market reforms”: tradable permit systems and emission taxes. One of the types of tradable permit systems is “auction of pollution rights”. In this type of system, the pollution amount is established and divided into separate units, which are auctioned afterwards. It gives environmental organizations an opportunity to buy the units in order to create a cleaner environment. Such plan was used for SO2 emissions during the Acid Rain Program. Also, it was undertaken for greenhouse gases in order to reduce global warming.

Major Environmental Laws Passed in the USAThe first environmental law in the USA was the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. This law was aimed to prohibit building any objects in navigable waterways of the United States and was the first step to nature preservation. However, the major precursor of the environmental movement in the U.S. was the early conservation movement of the 20th century, associated with President Theodore Roosevelt.  He is known for passing the Forest Reserve Act in 1891, in order to make 150 million acres of forest land as public domains, and influencing the USA Forest Service’s creation. Moreover, President Roosevelt turned much of the waterless land of the southwestern part of the USA into farmland.  He managed to achieve this goal by passing the National Reclamation Act of 1902, which made the western states of the USA one of the most important agricultural areas in the world (Herndl and Brown 1996). 

Richard Nixon is known as the President who started the environmental decade in the 1970s. He signed the bills establishing the landmark Clean Air Act and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Furthermore, he passed into law the Ocean Dumping Act in 1972, which prohibited transportation of waste material from the U.S. with an aim of ocean dumping and dumping of wastes in the territorial sea.  The Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 passed by Nixon provided for management of the U.S. coastal resources, such as the Great Lakes (Wallace 1995). 

Moreover, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter initiated the creation of the U.S. Department of Energy which was aimed to establish the energy policy that could promote the alternative and clean fuels. In addition, in 1979 Carter implemented the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE), which were aimed to mandate the fuel-efficient vehicles. With his support and guidance, the Superfund legislation was passed into law, which gave the Environmental Protection Agency responsibility and funding to clean the abandoned dumps with toxic wastes. However, his biggest environmental implementation was the Alaskan National Interest Lands Conservation Act (1980), which was aimed to conserve more than 100 million acres in Alaska (Wallace 1995).

In 1986, President Reagan signed the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act. This law strengthened the federal program of cleaning up sites with hazardous waste and increased funding. Later in 1987, he also passed the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act, which implemented the efficiency standards for the twelve types of residential appliances.

President Bush Senior passed the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990, which increased the responsibility and authority of the Federal Government.  The new regulatory programs were aimed to control the acid deposition in the environment. The Oil Pollution Act was signed by President Bush Senior in 1900, in order to prevent and mitigate the civil liability from the future spills of oil off the American coast. However, in 1995, President Bush Sr. did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, which immensely influenced the U.S. environmental image in the world (Herndl and Brown 1996).

President Clinton signed into law the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act on October 9, 1997. This Act was aimed to ensure that the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWFS) which was defined as the national system of related waters, lands, and other interests of conservation and protection of the U.S. wildlife. On July 1, 1993, President Clinton passed the Forest Resources Conservation and Shortage Relief Amendments Act. It was aimed to boost the protection of forest resources in conjunction with federal and state resources management decisions, and take urgent actions for distributing and acquiring forest products or resources in short supply in the western part of the USA.

In 2002, President George W. Bush suggested the Clear Skies Act, aimed to amend the Clean Air Act, in order to reduce the pollution of air using alternative emission trading programs. Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 was presented by him later in 2002 and passed into law in 2003. The main aims of the following law were to provide guidance and funding to decrease or eliminate fuels in the National Forests, create shaded fuel breaks, and decrease the forest fires.

Estimation of Barack Obama’s Environmental Policy Course Estimating the environmental laws passed in the USA, one can say that a lot of work has been done to promote the environmental principles in the U.S. policy and improve the ecological situation. No political leader is able to improve the ecological situation singlehandedly, and Barak Obama is not an exception. The principle “think locally, act globally” should be established, in order to promote a healthy environment.

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Since inauguration in 2009, President Obama has accomplished a lot of work towards improvement of the environment.  Although he has been criticized for not doing enough on the environmental from by his opponents, Obama signed the Executive Order 13514 which directed Federal Agencies to reduce the air pollution, meet a number of water, energy, and waste reduction targets, as well as leverage Federal purchasing power in order to promote environmentally friendly technologies and projects. Also, President Obama enacted the fuel efficiency standards that are aimed to decrease emissions from cars and trucks by 2025. This step has significantly improved the ecological situation (Broder 2013).

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 signed by President Obama was primarily an economic stimulus law; therefore, its aim was also to boost technological advances to invest in environment protection and ‘green energy’. However, it is often considered as a PR action after the Presidential elections in 2008.

On March 31, 2010, the President announced that he plans to end a drilling moratorium for gas and oil along the eastern coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. On May 27, 2010, the President announced a moratorium for 6 months on deep water drilling in response to the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill was enacted after being signed by President Obama on January 6, 2013. This Bill was intended to provide help in the ongoing Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. However, one can notice that most Obama’s political actions towards environmental protection were in response to accidents. Therefore, his political opponents blame him for being short-sighted and ineffective.

Wagner (2013) states that signing in Executive Order 13514 and establishing 28% emission reduction goal for the federal government, Obama and his administration should use “tried and true” market approach of putting a fee on carbon dioxide. The similar action was taken in 2010, when the 5-cent fee was put on plastic bags, and it succeeded. If the Congress refuses to take measures, Obama is recommended to take the regulatory efforts which would mostly affect power plants, transportation, and other stationary sources.

As a matter of fact, the most effective way of reducing the carbon emission is to enlist the U.S. market corporations on a large scale and put a direct cap on carbon emissions. In order to achieve the declared goals, Obama should use the Clean Air Act to punish the worst polluters. Otherwise, his mission to reduce emissions in 83% before 2050 will not be accomplished.

During the presidential elections in the USA in 2012, global warming has become one of the most discussed issues on the political agenda (Rewkin 2013). Lomborg (2012) proves that, between 1992 and 2012, very few steps were taken to solve the problem of global warming. Nevertheless, after the Copenhagen Consensus in 2009, climate economists suggested three changes to the U.S climate change approach. First, make green energy cheap, which will require investment in green technologies. Second, invest in geoengineering in order to runaway climate change. Third, recognize that the effects of human actions are bringing their outcomes very fast. Therefore, the President has to increase funding for green energy.  

Conclusion Since the beginning of the 20th century, environmental policy of the U.S. has been greatly influenced by all political leaders of the USA. Nowadays, a set of laws have been passed, but there are still parts that need to be discussed and changed. Today, the main course of the U.S. environmental policy is fighting the global warming and climate change along with the world community.

Although Obama’s environmental political course is rather promising, he should work more on prevention of ecological disasters more than respond to the new challenges. Moreover, President Obama needs to establish a new environmental policy course of resource conservation, reduce the emissions of factories and plants, and to make the U.S. more environmentally friendly. If Obama continues his environmental strategy, not much will change in the next few years. To witness the results of his policy, President Obama needs more radical approach to the environment. 

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