Current Issues in U.S. Environmental Policy

By Paul R. Portney; A. Myrick Freeman | Go to book overview
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into account are more likely to be non-white, low income, inner-city residents. The law apparently serves to shift welfare toward a population group that is also a focus of a large body of explicit redistributive policy.21 It is quite likely that certain pro-environment congressmen were influenced by the image of the inner-city resident living with both the burdens of poverty and dirty air. To these congressmen, the redistributive character of the environmental policy is simply another point in its favor.

If this conjecture is correct, it does not bode well for certain aspects of water quality legislation or for certain suggested amendments to the Clean Air Act. That is, it has been estimated that 70 percent of the benefits of improved water quality will be in the nature of improved recreational opportunities.22 These benefits will be biased toward the wealthy since those in the higher income classes are the major users of water-based recreation.23 In a similar fashion, suggested policies to limit air quality degradation in already clean areas cannot help but dampen economic growth, and, regardless of how noble the objectives may be, such growth-limiting policies, unless accompanied by substantial redistribution efforts, will almost certainly harm the poor who have yet to attain high levels of wealth far more than the rich who already have. To the extent that these and other aspects of environmental policy are perceived as primarily benefiting the wealthy, they may lose the support of welfare-oriented congressmen.


None or all of the above three explanations may account for congressional attitudes toward current environmental policy. It is difficult to prove or disprove any of these conjectures. What we can say with certainty is that environmental policy has potentially profound distributional implications. These policies are inherently biased with respect to their impact on different families and different geographical regions. This chapter has suggested that this lack of neutrality can have and may have had an impact on the political acceptability of the legislation. It is a possibility that should not be ignored when considering future legislation.

It is obviously not the sole focus. Most welfare recipients are white and many live in rural areas.
Fred H. Abel, Dennis P. Tihansky, and Richard G. Walsh, "National Benefits of Water Pollution Control" ( Washington, D.C., Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.).
C. J. Cicchetti, J. J. Seneca, and P. Davidson, The Demand and Supply for Outdoor Recreation ( New Brunswick, N.J., Bureau of Economic Research, Rutgers University, 1969).


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