White House Politics and the Environment: Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush
Texas A&M University Press, Jul 23, 2010 - Political Science - 320 pages
Presidents and their administrations since the 1960s have become increasingly active in environmental politics, despite their touted lack of expertise and their apparent frequent discomfort with the issue.
In White House Politics and the Environment: Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush, Byron W. Daynes and Glen Sussman study the multitude of resources presidents can use in their attempts to set the public agenda. They also provide a framework for considering the environmental direction and impact of U.S. presidents during the last seven decades, permitting an assessment of each president in terms of how his administration either aided or hindered the advancement of environmental issues.
Employing four factors—political communication, legislative leadership, administrative actions, and environmental diplomacy—as a matrix for examining the environmental records of the presidents, Daynes and Sussman’s analysis and discussion allow them to sort each of the twelve occupants of the White House included in this study into one of three categories, ranging from less to more environmentally friendly.
Environmental leaders and public policy professionals will appreciate White House Politics and the Environment for its thorough and wide-ranging examination of how presidential resources have been brought to bear on environmental issues.
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This volume involves a field poorly covered in the mountain of books on the American Presidents. Details of Presidents' policies and actions to deal with environment would be of value and current relevance given today's legislative paralysis, but this book fails to measure up.
The authors review major issues emerging during the presidencies and cite specific administrative acts, such as protecting forests or natural areas. However, in part because of their reliance on pro forma criteria and stereotypical approaches to issues I feel that they miss the boat in characterizing Presidents and their actions.
For example, President Johnson gets reasonable environmental marks largely based on ringing phrases in speeches. The reality is that Johnson does not appear to have had meaningful input into or interest in the content of the speeches other than to assert identification with environmental goals. He did not follow up with action. No major law or policy can be attributed to his initiative. This contrasts with the explosion of environmental activity under his successor, President Nixon (though Nixon's personal motives are a separate story).
In fact, First Lady Ladybird Johnson showed more effectiveness and concrete results from her national beautification campaign than Johnson did with respect to the environment. Johnson virtually admitted punting environment to Senate activists like Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine. This had fateful consequences in form of the Santa Barbara offshore oil spill of 1969.
Also in contrast to Johnson is President John F. Kennedy. JFK read Rachel Carson's book before it was published in 1962 and commissioned a study of pesticide and other pollution problems from his science advisor, Jerome Wiesner. In his preface to the report of Wiesner's task group published as a White House document in May 2003, Kennedy cited plans to implement the committee recommendations, including new legislation.
The Johnson Administration did not follow up the Wiesner recommendations and Kennedy's initiative, Instead, a 1965 environmental report organized under Johnson's science advisor, Donald Hornig, was essentially a collection of responses to an inquiry to federal agencies on what should be done. Some agencies like the Public Health Service did not conceal criticism - even incredulity about the feckless nature of the report. A collection of formal responses to a fishing expedition penned by high-level political appointees would not be a very effective way to start an environmental policy-making initiative, let alone a final report.
Effective policymaking builds around people who are knowledgeable, committed and have concrete visions for progress. Durable policy further involves casting a wide information net and testing proposed policies with affected constituencies (something almost never done in the U.S. in recent decades). Effective policies may originate with an expert group such as may be mobilized by a professional agency, a dedicated legislative nucleus such as Senator Edmund Muskie's Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution that crafted the Clean Air and Clean Water amendments of 1970 and 1972, respectively; or it may initiate with a single expert like Lee Talbot, Chief Scientist of President Nixon's Council on Environmental Quality. Talbot was the main architect of the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Act.
While the book includes useful detail, it is an inadequately informed and nuanced account of American Presidents' environmental policies and action.
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