Five Years of Environmental Policy: Are We Making a Difference?
Todd Myers, Director, Center for the Environment &
Brandon Houskeeper, Policy Analyst
During the past five years, the legislature has enacted more than two dozen environmental policies ranging from climate change, to clean water and banning flame-retardant compounds. While these policies receive significant attention as they are being considered by the legislature, few of them are audited afterward to determine if they are having the intended results.
For Earth Day 2010, we have examined the environmental policies passed by the legislature and governor during the past five years to determine when they have succeeded and when they have failed. The results are mixed, but in too many cases the programs are off track and policies have either already failed or are likely to fall short. Considered together, these environmental policies are likely to do more damage to the environment than good.
We have used a ten-point scale to score each policy, ranging from -5 to +5. Effective policies are rated positively while policies that actually harm the environment rate a negative score.
In judging them, we examined two elements of each policy:
-Objective results. The policies have sometimes produced measurable results. In those cases we have compared the actual results to what lawmakers promised. Since these results are less subject to debate, we stressed these metrics whenever possible.
-Projected results. In many cases, the policies are early in their implementation or do not have calculated measurable results. In these instances we tried to gauge the general direction of success, and we have applied lessons from similar programs to judge the likely merit of the policy.
In every case we kept in mind that costs do not occur in a vacuum. Money spent on one particular policy means those resources cannot be spent on an alternative. Thus, ineffective policies actually have a negative impact because even if they do not harm the environment directly, they take funding from projects that could have helped.
Finally, we realize it is easy to criticize policies after the fact. In each case we have offered alternative approaches that could either replace the policy or help ensure it lives up to what lawmakers promised.
The results of the analysis and the scores offer an important warning: policymakers should not confuse politically popular policies with those that may actually have a positive impact on the environment. Politicians are best at judging the potential popularity of various policies. Judging the potential environmental impact of those policies for legislators, few of whom are scientists or economists, is more difficult. The results offered here demonstrate that many of the policies lawmakers enacted were chosen primarily because they are trendy or popular. If we truly care about promoting environmental sustainability and a healthy environment, we need to encourage policymakers to take a closer look at the science and economics of the environmental policies they support.