Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Balancing Risk and Finance: The Challenge of Implementing Unfunded Environmental Mandates

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Balancing Risk and Finance: The Challenge of Implementing Unfunded Environmental Mandates

Article excerpt

What impact have unfunded environmental mandates had on local governments? Carol Cimitile, Victoria Kennedy, Henry Lambright, Rosemary O'Leary, and Paul Weiland's two-pronged research studied seven local governments in New York State in 1994. First, they examined if and how these local governments prioritized risks (such as environmental and public health problems) to decide what environmental areas should have priority. Second, they examined how local governments were paying for the implementation of environmental mandates. The division of responsibility for environmental programs differs dramatically among the seven local governments studied. Common themes, however, were discovered and are discussed. The authors conclude that the problems posed by unfunded environmental mandates are the result of a number of factors including fragmentation (institutional, scientific, legal, and political), lack of information, and the rigidity of laws and regulations. They call for a national reexamination of environmental regulation.

One of the first bills passed by Congress during the 1995 session and signed into law by President Clinton was P.L. 104-4 which addresses the issue of unfunded mandates. The passage of this law came on the heels of a number of other actions that called attention to a multitude of unfunded mandates being passed from the federal government to the states and from the states to localities. In 1993 and 1994, numerous resolutions were introduced in both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives to limit the passage of unfunded federal mandates. In 1993, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12875 (President Clinton, 1993) calling for a reduction in unfunded mandates. And October 27, 1993, was declared National Unfunded Mandates Day by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties.

One purpose of all these actions was to call attention to the growing number of environmental mandates handed down from federal and state governments to local governments. Increasingly, the duty to implement environmental laws is falling on local governments. Environmental responsibility has shifted downward but without the needed funds to implement the programs mandated by the laws (ACIR, 1990., Fix and Kenyon, 1990; Schwartz and Peck, 1990; Zimmerman, 1992). Unfunded environmental mandates affect many of our nation's governments (DiLorenzo, 1993; U.S. Conference of Mayors/Price Waterhouse, 1993). Although much has been written on federalism and environmental policy (Fitzgerald, McCabe, and Foltz, 1988; Peretz, 1992; Tobin, 1992), little attention has been paid to the issue of how local governments are dealing with unfunded environmental mandates.

The cost of federally mandated environmental programs has been estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be $99 billion for 1990 alone (Pompilli et al., 1992). Yet there is little information on the impact of environmental mandates on individual local government entities. In one of the few studies on the subject, officials in Columbus, Ohio, estimated its portion of those costs to be $1 billion from 1992 to the year 2000 (Environmental Law Committee, 1991). In another study, the overall impact of environmental mandates on Anchorage, Alaska, was estimated to be $430 million from 1992 to 2000 (Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska, 1992).

To gather further empirical evidence to understand better how local governments are coping with the unfunded environmental mandates facing them, we studied seven local governments in New York State. The focus of the research was two-pronged. First, we examined if and how these local governments prioritized risks (such as environmental and public health problems) in order to decide what environmental areas should have priority. Second, we examined how local governments were paying for the implementation of environmental mandates. Researchers asked the questions: Are risk and finance balanced by these local governments? …

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