FATEFUL COLLISION The transformation of lawmaking and society by U.S. environmental legislation of the 1970s
25 Pages Posted: 7 Oct 2020 Last revised: 19 Aug 2021
Date Written: October 6, 2020
From the later 19th Century to the early 1970s the U.S. was consistently at the frontier of publicly relevant technology and policy advances. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970 (CAA), enacted with unanimous approval in the Senate, continued this tradition. The U.S. became the world leader in environmental policy. The CAA and subsequent environmental laws made rapid progress against environmental pollution. However, they also transformed conventions for federal lawmaking, replacing trust in federal agencies and cooperation between government and the private sector with adversarial regulatory controls and permitting systems. Antagonism grew in the business community. The results contributed to mass exodus of business from manufacturing and industry in the 1970s.
Rollback of regulatory enforcement in the first Reagan administration led to Congressional backlash and widening of conflict over environmental policy to partisan political polarization. In the 1980s the Democratic Party became the party of environment and the Republican Party became the party of business and industry. The rift in society led to Congressional gridlock, crippling the federal governmentʻs ability to address major national problems, including global climate change. The rise of global climate change as the overriding environmental policy issue has led to increasing concern about the inhibiting effect of the U.S.ʻs regulatory and permitting labyrinth on transformation of the nation to renewable energy. Ultimately, the U.S. may take note of environmental policies adopted by European nations. Based on cooperative rather than command & control systems, they allowed Europe to become the world leader in global climate change performance and policy.
Keywords: Environmental policy, regulation, Congressional lawmaking, polarization, environment, Clean Air Act Amendments
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