Controversial Issues in Environmental Policy: Science vs. Economics vs. Politics


Kent E. Portney

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  • Controversial Issues in Public Policy

    Series Editors

    Dennis Palumbo and Rita Mae Kelly

    Arizona State University


      Science vs. Economics vs. Politics





      Government and the Pursuit of Happiness









    To Alexandra


    View Copyright Page

    Series Editors' Introduction

    Public policy controversies escalated during the 1980s and early 1990s. This was partly due to bitter partisan debate between Republicans and Democrats, a divided government in which the Republicans controlled the Presidency and the Democrats controlled the Congress, and the rise of negative campaigning in the 1988 presidential election. In addition, the past decade was a time when highly controversial issues such as abortion, crime, environmental pollution, affirmative action, and choice in education became prominent in the public policy agenda.

    Policy issues in this atmosphere tend to be framed in dichotomous, either-or terms. Abortion is depicted as “murder” on the one hand, or a woman's “self-interested choice” on the other. One is either “tough” on crime, or too much in favor of “defendants’ rights.” Affirmative action is a matter of “quotas” or a “special interest” issue. School choice is the means for correcting the “educational mess,” or the destruction of public education. In such an atmosphere there doesn't seem to be a middle ground or a common ground where cooler heads can unite.

    The shrillness of these policy disputes reduces the emphasis on finding rational, balanced solutions. Political ideology and a zero-sum approach to politics and policy became the order of the day.

    Certainly, there hasn't been an end to ideology over the past decade and a half, as some believed was occurring in the 1970s. Reaganomics contributed to a widening gap between the rich and the poor during the 1980s, which exacerbated partisan debate and further stymied governmental action. In 1992 controversies over health care—both lack of coverage for millions and skyrocketing costs—illustrate the wide gap in the way Republicans and Democrats approach public policy controversies. The Reagan “revolution” was based on a definite and clear ideological approach to public policy in general: eliminate government regulation; reduce taxes; provide tax incentives for business; cut welfare; and privatize the delivery of governmental services. Democrats, of course, did not agree.

    This series, Controversial Issues in Public Policy, is meant to shed more light and less ideological heat on major policy issues in substantive policy areas. In this volume, Kent Portney discusses such issues as acid rain, ozone depletion, air and water quality, and hazardous waste. As might be expected, none of these has an easy solution. In 1992, for example, President Bush, alarmed by new reports of more rapid ozone depletion than had previously been estimated, announced a speedup in the phaseout of ozone-destroying chemicals by American manufacturers. He was criticized for delaying so long before he acted and also for not doing enough in his new phaseout policy. But to successfully deal with ozone depletion, as Portney notes, requires action by all industrialized nations. The United States, Japan, and Germany were not terribly enthusiastic about taking action by themselves because it might make them less competitive in the world marketplace.

    Portney describes how controversial issues in environmental policy get onto the policy agenda, how policies about the issues are formulated, and the difficulty in implementing such policies. Thus, his coverage goes beyond simply describing the nature of controversial environmental policy issues; he also demonstrates how the policy-making process tries to deal with the issues, for the policy-making process itself often detracts from finding solutions to the vital environmental issues facing the United States as we prepare to enter the twenty-first century.

    Rita MaeKelly
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    About the Author

    Kent E. Portney is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Tufts University. He is the author of Siting Hazardous Waste Treatment Facilities: The NIMBY Syndrome and many articles about the environment, hazardous waste policy, and public risk perceptions toward the environment. He has also written extensively about public policy analysis and about citizen participation in American politics. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Florida State University in 1979.

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