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Open for Business

Open for Business: Conservatives' Opposition to Environmental Regulation

Judith A. Layzer
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 520
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  • Book Info
    Open for Business
    Book Description:

    Since the 1970s, conservative activists have invoked free markets and distrust of the federal government as part of a concerted effort to roll back environmental regulations. They have promoted a powerful antiregulatory storyline to counter environmentalists' scenario of a fragile earth in need of protection, mobilized grassroots opposition, and mounted creative legal challenges to environmental laws. But what has been the impact of all this activity on policy? In this book, Judith Layzer offers a detailed and systematic analysis of conservatives' prolonged campaign to dismantle the federal regulatory framework for environmental protection.Examining conservatives' influence from the Nixon era to the Obama administration, Layzer describes a set of increasingly sophisticated tactics--including the depiction of environmentalists as extremist elitists, a growing reliance on right-wing think tanks and media outlets, the cultivation of sympathetic litigators and judges, and the use of environmentally friendly language to describe potentially harmful activities. She argues that although conservatives have failed to repeal or revamp any of the nation's environmental statutes, they have influenced the implementation of those laws in ways that increase the risks we face, prevented or delayed action on newly recognized problems, and altered the way Americans think about environmental problems and their solutions. Layzer's analysis sheds light not only on the politics of environmental protection but also, more generally, on the interaction between ideas and institutions in the development of policy.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30529-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Foreword: Conservative Ideas and Their Consequences
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Sheldon Kamieniecki and Michael Kraft

    Corporate leaders and conservative analysts have long been critics of U.S. environmental policy. They maintain that environmentalists exaggerate problems and predict dire consequences in order to alarm Americans unnecessarily, raise money for their cause, and shape public policy to their liking. In addition, they contend that many laws, regulations, and government programs are excessively burdensome and costly, will result in only modest—if any—improvements in environmental quality, and, therefore, are unnecessary. In their view, corporations have a great deal at stake financially (as do their shareholders), and they have every right to express their positions and lobby government to...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    On November 5, 2008, voters elected Barack Obama the forty-fourth president of the United States. Environmental concerns played a minimal role in the twenty-two-month-long presidential campaign, despite their growing prominence in popular culture during that period. In some respects this was not surprising. Historically, the environment has not been a deciding factor in national elections. Moreover, in the months leading up to the 2008 election, the near collapse of the global financial system dominated the news and the presidential debates. The campaigns’ lack of focus on the environment also reflected the relatively small differences between the two candidates’ positions on...

  7. 2 Discerning the Impact of Conservative Ideas
    (pp. 11-30)

    This chapter proposes a framework for thinking about how an emerging set of conservative ideas has interacted with recently created environmental institutions in the United States since 1970. The framework maps the tactical choices facing both proponents of new ideas and defenders of the status quo; it also suggests when and how different kinds of challenges are likely to prompt policy and political change. It is particularly relevant to the contemporary historical era, in which governance is fragmented into relatively autonomous policy systems, and competition within those systems among advocates and policymakers with a range of values and preferences is...

  8. 3 The Environmental Decade and the Conservative Backlash, 1970–1980
    (pp. 31-82)

    The modern environmental movement emerged during the late 1960s and early 1970s, a tumultuous period in U.S. history. In April 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and a spate of riots broke out in cities across the country. A few months later, presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy was shot. Growing opposition to the war in Vietnam fed a “counterculture” skeptical of all the nation’s major institutions, but particularly business. Protests erupted on college campuses. Meanwhile, national polls documented an extraordinary rise in popular concern about the environment that cut across nearly all segments of society.¹ According to historian Samuel Hays,...

  9. 4 Ronald Reagan Brings Conservatism to the White House
    (pp. 83-134)

    During the 1970s, bipartisan criticism of economic regulation prompted deregulation of the airline, trucking, and other industries. By the early 1980s, skepticism about social regulation was running high as well, not only among conservatives but also among many moderates. As historian Theodore White pointed out, the number of social regulatory agencies had grown from twelve in 1970 to eighteen by 1980, and their budgets had increased from $1.4 billion to $7.5 billion; during the same period, he noted, theCode of Federal Regulationshad expanded dramatically.¹ Economist George Eads and attorney Michael Fix captured the prevailing sentiment at the start...

  10. 5 Conservative Ideas Gain Ground Under George H. W. Bush
    (pp. 135-186)

    By the late 1980s, it was clear to many in the business community that pollution control regulations were here to stay, and companies had begun to adjust their practices accordingly. Observers noted a shift among business as soon as it became apparent that the Reagan administration’s direct challenges were provoking a proenvironmental backlash that threatened to increase the burden on industry.² By the mid-1980s, some businesses had embraced environmental protection in response to new regulations; pressure from customers, communities, investors, and activists;³ and reports that companies were profiting from environmental protection.⁴ According to Richard Andrews, “The cumulative impact of environmental...

  11. 6 Bill Clinton Confronts a Conservative Congress
    (pp. 187-256)

    The new president gave conservatives ample reason to fear that more stringent environmental regulations were imminent. Most galling to conservatives, Vice President Al Gore was the author ofEarth in the Balance, a manifesto decrying humans’ environmental impact and calling for drastic action to remediate it. Also worrisome, the Clinton/Gore team had made a host of ambitious campaign promises, from raising the corporate average fuel economy standards for cars, encouraging mass transit, and funding the development of renewable energy to providing new incentives for recycling, passing a revised Clean Water Act with standards for nonpoint sources, preserving the Arctic National...

  12. 7 George W. Bush Advances Conservatives’ Antiregulatory Agenda
    (pp. 257-332)

    Although relatively silent on the environment early in the campaign, when he did speak on the issue candidate Bush did not disparage environmental protection but rather articulated a storyline consistent with the mainstream critique of environmental regulation. For example, in an interview with theNew York Times,Bush focused on process rather than goals, arguing that the best way to achieve clean air and water was “to work with local jurisdictions using market-based solutions and not try to sue our way or regulate our way to clean air and clean water.”³ With respect to biodiversity, Bush promised full funding for...

  13. 8 The Consequences of a Conservative Era
    (pp. 333-370)

    In the realm of environmental policy, conservatives’ primary goal is to ensure that the nation’s public land and natural resources are “open for business.” To this end, their strategy is to roll back existing regulations and prevent new ones. Their stated rationale is that government intrusion in the market impinges on individual freedom, restrains business, and is inherently inefficient. In the rare instances when government intervention is unavoidable, conservatives favor the assignment of property rights and the creation of positive inducements over the imposition of rules and sanctions. In an effort to make the nation’s environmental regulatory framework more consistent...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 371-470)
  15. Selected References
    (pp. 471-488)
  16. Index
    (pp. 489-500)
  17. Series List
    (pp. 501-502)