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University Press of Colorado
Environmental Politics and Policy in the West, Revised Edition / Edition 2

Environmental Politics and Policy in the West, Revised Edition / Edition 2

by Zachary A. Smith, John Freemuth
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Population growth and industrial development have put the wide-open spaces and natural resources that define the West under immense stress. Vested interests clash and come to terms over embattled resources such as water, minerals, and even open space. The federal government controls 40 to 80 percent of the land base in many western states; its sway over the futures of the West's communities and environment has prompted the development of unique policies and politics in the West.

Zachary A. Smith and John Freemuth bring together a roster of top scholars to explicate the issues noted above as well as other key questions in this new edition of Environmental Politics and Policy in the West, which was first published in 1993. This thoroughly revised and updated edition offers a comprehensive and current survey.

Contributors address the policy process as it affects western states, how bureaucracy and politics shape environmental dialogues in the West, how western states innovate environmental policies independently of Washington, and how and when science is involved (or ignored) in management of the West's federal lands. Experts in individual resource areas explore multifaceted issues such as the politics of dam removal and restoration, wildlife resource concerns, suburban sprawl and smart growth, the management of hard-rock mining, and the allocation of the West's tightly limited water resources. Contributors include: Leslie R. Alm, Carolyn D. Baber, Walter F. Baber, Robert V. Bartlett, Hugh Bartling, Matthew A. Cahn, R. McGreggor Cawley, Charles Davis, Sandra Davis, John C. Freemuth, Sheldon Kamieniecki, Matt Lindstrom, William R. Mangun, Denise McCain-Tharnstrom, Daniel McCool, Jaina L. Moan, and Zachary A. Smith.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780870818813
Publisher: University Press of Colorado
Publication date: 08/01/2007
Edition description: REV
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

John C. Freemuth is a professor of public policy and senior fellow at the Cecil Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. He chaired the Science Advisory Board of the Bureau of Land Management after being appointed by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, was the Senior Fellow at the Cecil Andrus Center for Public Policy from 1998-2012, and has rejoined the Center as the Senior Fellow for Environment and Public Lands.

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Environmental Politics and Policy in the West

By Zachary A. Smith, John Freemuth

University Press of Colorado

Copyright © 2016 University Press of Colorado
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-87081-881-3


Energy, the Environment, and the American West

A Policymaking Perspective


Public policymaking in the American West, especially as it concerns the natural environment, is a process sometimes viewed as "messy, foolish, erratic, and inexplicable" (Stone 2012, 10). First there is the complexity (sometimes viewed as extreme complexity) of the policymaking process in general, where "problems are conceptualized and brought to government for solution; governmental institutions formulate alternatives and select policy solutions; and those solutions get implemented, evaluated, and revised" (Sabatier 2007, 3). Moreover, decisions made under the auspices of public policymaking are rarely permanent and very much representative of a fluid, dynamic, and malleable process (Gerston 2008) — a process said to be inclusive of all political activities and institutions, "from voting, political cultures, parties, legislatures, bureaucracies, international agencies, local governments, and back again to the citizens who implement and evaluate public policies" (John 2003, 483).

When one adds environmental and energy issues to this public policy mix, things become even more entangled, especially with today's renewed sense of urgency about climate change, energy independence, and resource management (Vig and Kraft 2013) — all necessitating increasingly specialized competence to regulate sophisticated information, analysis, and advice (Kettle 2012). Environmental and energy politics means conflicts between value systems: conservation versus preservation, natural resources development versus environmental protection, individual property rights versus the government's right of eminent domain, and command and control regulatory systems versus market-oriented approaches. Such a combination makes for difficult reading and difficult analysis. Three decades past but still relevant today, Dean Mann — a highly respected environmental scholar — expressed the frustrations of dealing with such policymaking: "Environmental policy is not an artifact of administrations, grandly enunciated by presidents, duly enacted by responsive legislatures, and efficiently administered by the executive establishment. It is ... a jerry-built structure in which innumerable individuals, private groups, bureaucrats, politicians, agencies, courts, political parties, and circumstances have laid down the plans, hammered the nails, plastered over the cracks, made sometimes unsightly additions and deletions, and generally defied 'holistic' or 'ecological' principles of policy design" (Mann 1986, 4).

Within this context I will add one final ingredient — the American West. The imagery and reality of the American West is undauntedly clear and contradictory. On the one hand, there is the majestic beauty of the mountains, deserts, and wilderness areas. On the other hand, there is the spirited and often fierce battle over the rights to scarce natural resources, be it the never-ending search for usable water or the renewed effort to find energy sources in a quest for energy stability and independence. The West also presents a sharply defined contrast between the vast open spaces that define a majority of rural counties and a booming growth in urban population centers where most of its citizens reside. To top it all off, the frontier ethos of rugged individualism characterized by intense anti-government attitudes comes into direct conflict with the dominance of, and reliance on, the federal government. These special characteristics make the West unique in the sphere of environmental policymaking. To study environmental policymaking in the United States is one thing. To study environmental policymaking in the American West — whether it deals with energy or the environment — is distinctive in important and interesting ways. As Walter Baber and Robert Bartlett make clear, to effectively understand the role the environment plays in our cultural experience, one requires a "wisdom of place" (2009, 19). The following sections delineate environmental and energy policymaking in the context of such a "place" — the American West.

The following sections focus specifically on providing a general policy framework from which readers can elicit large, philosophical interpretations of current issues dealing with both energy and environmental policymaking unique to the American West (depicted in the substantive chapters of this book) as this particular region of the United States struggles to maintain its relevance to American public policymaking in general. Within this policy framework, energy is viewed as a component of environmental policymaking, and what follows is an overview of the policymaking process as it pertains to the special qualities that characterize the American West while it deals with maintaining energy independence and environmental protection.

Overview of the Policy Process

To comprehend western environmental and energy policymaking, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of the overall policymaking process.

Definition of Public Policy

Because the study of public policy is a fairly recent phenomenon of political science, we are still struggling to grasp the essence of exactly what it entails. In fact, it is a common technique to begin books about public policy by simply asking the question, what is public policy? Michael Kraft and Scott Furlong, in their recently published public policy text, provide a concise, straightforward definition: "Public policy is a course of government action or inaction in response to public problems" (2013, 4). They go on to explain that making public policy involves an attempt by government to address society's problems and that policy is a course of action, not just an isolated, onetime government act.

This line of thought — centered on the idea that the making of public policy involves the government attempting to deal with society's problems — is worth remembering, as it defines the very essence of public policymaking in the United States, including the American West. Furthermore, viewed in this light, the study of public policy is firmly grounded in the study of how political communities struggle with ideas (Stone 2012). More to the point, public policymaking is cast as "a constant struggle over the criteria for classification, the boundaries of categories, and the definition of ideals that guide the way people behave" (ibid., 13). In the end, it should always be remembered that "policies are not simply the random and chaotic product of a political process ... [They] have underlying patterns and logic, and the ideas included in policies have real consequences" (Schneider and Ingram 1997, 3). It is within this context that I will view the public policy process.

Analysis of Public Policy

One helpful way to visualize the policymaking process is to set up a specific framework of analysis. Fortunately, several good frameworks exist today.

While there is a wide array of frameworks, from those grounded in historic-geographic and socioeconomic conditions (Hofferbert 1974) to those that emphasize individual actors and their preferences, interests, and resources (Kiser and Ostrom 1982), the most common framework has been to represent the policymaking process as a sequence of linearly connected stages (Bonser, McGregor, and Oster 2000; Cochran et al. 2003).

Policymaking is seen as beginning in the agenda-setting stage, where issues are recognized as both worthy of governmental attention and within the legitimate scope of governmental action. From there the issue moves to the policy formulation stage, where a plan is developed to deal with it. In the next stage, policy adoption, a specific alternative or solution is chosen. Execution of the policy is then completed in the implementation stage, where policymakers use a variety of policy instruments to ensure their goals are achieved. After a period of time, a judgment is made regarding the success of implementation. This takes place in the evaluation stage. Finally, a determination is made as to whether the chosen plan of attack should be terminated, continued, or changed.

An offshoot of this policy-made-in-stages approach is based on the systems approach developed by David Easton (Robertson and Judd 1989). According to this approach, society makes demands on the government, the government reacts to these demands, and specific policies are formulated to meet the demands. The societal demands involve specific types of political behavior, political culture, and ideology. Moreover, these demands are passed forward through such mechanisms as public opinion, interest groups, mass media, political parties, and community elites. The government policymaking structure is set up to view and deal with these demands within an institutional structure consisting of legislatures, elected executives, courts, and bureaucracy (including administrative agencies).

Essentially, the government processes the demands to produce public policy. The end results are called policy outcomes and consist of laws, executive orders, court rulings, regulations, enforcement actions, budgets, and taxes. This type of approach focuses specifically on institutions and political behavior both inside and outside those institutions.

While this focus on institutions and political behavior has remained a very popular approach, there has been some criticism that viewing public policymaking through a simple sequence of stages is not sufficient to grasp the true meaning and development of public policy. In other words, the policymaking process may be viewed as much too complex to be explained in such a straightforward manner (John 2003). There now exist a number of relatively new theoretical frameworks of the policy process that are currently recognized as some of the most advanced approaches to the study of public policy and are directly relevant to our study of environmental and energy policymaking in the American West. Paul-Sabatier (2007), in his second edition of Theories of the Policy Process, provides a listing of these frameworks, including multiple streams, advocacy coalitions, punctuated equilibrium, institutional rational choice, networks, and social construction. Each of these conceptual frameworks attempts to explain the American public policymaking process using a particular construct in a way that emphasizes how policy changes over time.

The multiple streams approach conceptualizes policymaking around enterprising policy entrepreneurs who make things happen within the context of three dynamic streams (problem, policy, and political) that merge at certain points in time (windows of opportunity) to stimulate the production of a specific public policy (Kingdon 2011; Zahariadis 2007). The problem stream consists of various mechanisms that bring problems to the attention of decision makers. One such mechanism is the focusing event, which includes disasters, crises, personal experiences, and symbols. However, focusing events need to be understood within the context of preexisting perceptions, especially about past governmental actions. It is important to note that government officials do not address all problems. Hence, the way problems are defined and under what conditions help determine their status in the problem stream.

The advocacy-coalition approach centers on advocacy coalitions — defined as groups of actors from both private and public organizations at all levels of government who share a common set of values or beliefs — as the primary determinants of public policy (Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith 1993; Sabatier and Weible 2007). The policy process is viewed within a framework in which these advocacy coalitions attempt to manipulate the rules of government to bring about change that coincides with their beliefs. This activity takes place within the basic social structure and in accordance with the constitutional rules of the system.

The punctuated-equilibrium approach, founded within the agenda-setting process, is structured around the principle that political systems are never in general equilibrium (Baumgartner and Jones 1993; True, Jones, and Baumgartner 2007). Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones depict the policy consequences of agenda setting as dramatic reversals rather than marginal revisions to the status quo. The generation of new ideas is viewed as creating an atmosphere such that policy monopolies (defined as structural arrangements supported by powerful ideas) are unstable over time. Policy is made with fits and starts, slow, then rapid, rather than in a linear, smooth way. Existing political institutions and issue definitions are viewed as key to the policymaking process, with issue definition, because of its potential for mobilizing the disinterested, seen as the driving force in that process, affecting both stability and instability.

The institutional rational choice approach is founded within political economy and rational choice theory, portraying policy within a framework where decision makers repeatedly have to make decisions constrained by a set of collective-choice rules (Ostrom 1990, 1999, 2007). Decisions are made based on incomplete knowledge, with policymakers gaining a greater understanding of their situations (and adopting their strategies) by learning from their mistakes. Elinor Ostrom's approach is designed to "shatter the convictions of many policy analysts that the only way to solve [common-pool resource] problems is for external authorities to impose full property rights or centralized regulation" (1990, 182). Through her critique of three conventional approaches (privatization, central regulation, and management by interested parties), Ostrom offers a picture of policymaking in which communities voluntarily develop policy rules, a commitment to collective benefits, and successful mutual monitoring (Weschler 1991).

The network approach is based on one of the central concepts of inter-organizational theory — that actors are dependent on each other because they need each other's resources to achieve their goals — and on interest group and agenda-setting research whereby policy networks constitute a new form of governance characterized by the predominance of informal, decentralized, and horizontal relations (Adam and Kriesi 2007). Inherent in its tenets are that governmental organizations are no longer the steering actors in the policy process. Instead, there exists a diversity of actors who are mutually interdependent. Moreover, the interactions of these interdependent actors determine the form of policy change and the eventual outcomes.

The social construction approach attempts to explain a number of enduring dilemmas in a democratic polity that other frameworks do not adequately address. Helen Ingram, Anne Schneider, and Peter de Leon (2007) argue that policy design is recognized as having consequences where reputation, image, and social standing directly affect the notion of government and whether people choose to participate in the policy process. This approach centers on the power and influence of manipulation of such social constructions. Policymakers are viewed as responsive to such manipulations, with policy outcomes dependent on how well competing constructions are accepted. Policymaking is dynamic — there are no uniform social constructions. In essence, the ultimate policy design is based on persuading others that a particular way of framing an issue is the best way to approach creating a meaningful policy choice.

These approaches to the study of public policymaking vary, from looking at public policy as a linear process that takes place in definable stages, to the notion that it is the complex interaction of policy streams or policy subsystems that determines where we are going, to the notion that viable policy solutions exist outside mainstream approaches such as privatization and centralized government. While these conceptualizations are significant to the study of public policy, it still remains helpful to understand that the core of policymaking lies in behavior that takes place within our policy institutions (legislatures, the presidency, courts, interest groups, administrative agencies, local governments, and political parties) and in behavior that takes place outside these political institutions (public opinion, voting, political culture, and political socialization).


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Table of Contents


Preface Zachary A. Smith and John Freemuth,
1. Energy, the Environment, and the American West: A Policymaking Perspective Leslie R. Alm,
2. Bureaucracy and Politics of Energy and Environmental Policy in the Western States Matthew A. Cahn, Sheldon Kamieniecki, Denise McCain-Tharnstrom, and Duran Fiack,
3. Governance, Science, and the Federal Lands John Freemuth and Esther Babcock,
4. Urban Planning and Environmental Policy in the West Hugh Bartling, Matt Lindstrom, and Ashleigh Walter,
5. Renewable Energy Policymaking in the American West Charles Davis, Sandra Davis, and Cassandra Koerner,
6. Water in the Western United States: Storied Past and Troubled Future Zachary A. Smith,
7. The Politics of River Restoration Daniel McCool,
8. Wildlife Conservation Policy and Energy Development in Western States William R. Mangun and Jean C. Mangun,
9. Tribal Sovereignty: The Struggle to Balance Traditions of Environmental Stewardship with Modern-Era Energy Resource Development Robert E. Forbis Jr. and Megan M. DeMasters,
List of Contributors,

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