U.S. Energy and Environmental Interest Groups: Institutional Profiles

By Lettie McSpadden Wenner | Go to book overview

economic. Nevertheless, individual members may share a philosophy that is close to the world view of several environmental voluntary associations, and in fact many of their members also belong to such groups. These people usually regard themselves not as advocates for a cause but as objective scientists and professionals who can help to find a common ground between the two contending sides, or even the one technically correct way to achieve the goals of the policy.


CONCLUSIONS

Two decades ago the energy development/environmental policy field was dominated by an iron triangle of interests shared among businesses intent on exploiting all natural resources, members of Congress representing that private interest, and the executive agency designed to promulgate that interest, the Departments of Agriculture and Interior. Today there have been some modifications made in that scenario. Conservation groups that had long cautioned about the rapid depletion of our abundant resources, newly formed voluntary associations that were created around one or more concerns about the natural environment, and professional groups that represent men and women involved in the management not only of natural resources but human health have become more active in this policy domain.

This is not to argue that the scales have been balanced and there is equal representation of all sides in the policy debate. Groups organized for private profit still have a clear edge on all others in terms of resources they wield in the policy debate. Nevertheless, there are alternate voices now being heard. Much discord exists among these voices, as they disagree with one another about strategies and even goals. The appearance and techniques of the public interest group have been adopted by business leaders intent on increasing their influence. Today it is risky to predict the direction a group's policy preferences will take simply because it puts the word environmental in its title. There are as many, perhaps more, entrepreneurs on the right as on the left of this issue. Public interest groups aimed at economic development at any cost to the environment have a ready audience in the business community that may view their pleas for support as an easy way to take the onus of anti-environmentalism off their own corporate image.

At the same time that public groups proliferate on both sides of this issue, some private investors have turned to more environmentally benign ways of making a profit. For those who believe that the U.S. capitalist system will always provide more political opportunity for those who can provide economic incentives to their followers, this may be the last best hope for environmentalism. Logically it may be argued that it is easier to keep the loyalty of someone whose economic well-being is wrapped up in a cause than it is to depend entirely on ideology. Development of such small industries will not be the solution for all our environmental problems. The nascent alternative power industry and pollution control industry are often dominated by the giants that also have heavy investments in

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