The Politics of Precaution: Regulating Health, Safety, and Environmental Risks in Europe and the United States

By David Vogel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Air Pollution

THIS CHAPTER COMPARES THE POLICIES in the United States and Europe to several health and environmental risks associated with air pollution— one of the most critical dimensions of environmental regulation. It specifically describes and explains each of their policy decisions toward the health and environmental risks of mobile (vehicular) source pollutants, ozone-depleting chemicals, and global climate change.

Beginning in the 1970s, the United States moved earlier and adopted more stringent controls on automotive emissions than did any European country or the European Union. During the 1970s and 1980s, the United States was the first country to identify the risks of ozone-depleting chemicals, and it adopted more extensive restrictions on them than did most European countries as well as the European Union. However, in the case of global climate change—a policy area that became more salient after around 1990—it was the European Union that adopted more stringent and comprehensive risk regulations than the United States. This chapter also discusses one important exception to the shift in transatlantic regulatory stringency that took place around 1990: American regulations for automotive emissions of health-related pollutants were and have remained more stringent than European ones.

Differences in public risk perceptions, one of my explanatory factors, played an important role in affecting these policy decisions. During the 1970s and through the mid-1980s, public pressures to address the risks of air pollution from vehicles were stronger in the United States than in many member states of the European Union. Public concerns about the health risks of ozone depletion were much more widespread in the United States than in Europe, especially during the 1970s. On the other hand, public concern about the risks of global climate change and support for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to address them have consistently been stronger in Europe than in the United States.

Public policies toward the risks of air pollution have also been affected by the preferences of policy makers. Through 1990 in the United States there was relatively strong bipartisan support for addressing the risks of both vehicular pollution and ozone depletion. The two most important air pollution statutes were adopted during the administrations of Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush, when Democrats

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