Date of Award



Edward Van Buren


"The golden era of environmental lawmaking, in which 22 major federal laws were passed between 1964 and 1980, has been followed by a long period of legislative gridlock, increased partisan contention over environmental policy, and growing frustration on the part of environmentalists." These golden-era laws do not significantly address many issues that are prevalent in today's globalized environment, and federal statutes remain silent on the paramount issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These issues did not fall within the ambit of the laws adopted in the 1960s and 1970s, and in the era of legislative gridlock, it has been difficult to fill these critical gaps in the green state. Environmentalists today believe that despite significant public support and tremendous organizational effort, they are "fighting defensive battles and struggling at the margins of growing environmental problems". The public contends that environmental policy in the United States is characterized by the “resilience of the basic policy commitments of the golden era of environmentalism".

There is a palpable sense of failure on the part of the environmental community. Concerns about the capacity of United States institutions to address critical problems have surfaced, and environmentalists worry about "significant retrenchment in environmental policy commitments". Pressures have built for congressional action to address climate change; and within the federal government, pressures for change have grown on policymaking pathways carved out around the longstanding legislative deadlock. There is a demand for stronger action within the federal government in dealing with the increasingly substantial environmental issues that our nation faces. In the environmental history of the United States, the Executive President has played a significant role in the way in which environmental protection is implemented into the political, economic, and social sectors of the nation. Environmental causes have succeeded within the federal government when the president chooses to make the issue a top priority on their legislative agenda, and utilize their presidential power and influence to enact policies that help further environment protection. This thesis argues for the stronger role of the American President in dealing with the globalized environmental challenges that threaten the economy, health, and safety of both the United States and the world's nations today.

Our skepticism about the "death of environmentalism" is rooted in a deeper story about environmental policy in the United States. Environmental policymaking must account for the historical policies that are now embedded in our "nation's laws, the institutional structure and culture of implementing agencies, and public expectations that are aggressively articulated by interest groups and national political parties". The top layer of the nation’s environmental state—"the policy regime created between 1964 and 1980 in a series of remarkable victories for the environmental movement"—sets the basic landscape of modern environmental policymaking. This thesis will examine how the top layer of federal government impacted the development of the environment movement through a historical, political, and economic lenses, ultimately supporting the stronger role of the American President in environmental policy.