Democratization of American Society and the Environment

Published: 2021-07-07
1520 words
6 pages
13 min to read
Carnegie Mellon University
Type of paper: 
This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The United States history is often perceived as one of progressive democratization. This is a process whereby the authority to make personal, economic and political decisions has gradually moved from a selected few to the vast majority. Americans tend to think of democratization as something to strive for, with the environment playing a crucial role in the process. The relationship between the environment and democracy is subject to a lot of debate as well as controversy. Some scientists are of the opinion that democracy has a positive effect when it comes to minimizing environmental disruption. Others feel that it contributes to environmental degradation. All in all, democratization of the American society from the 18th through the early 20th centuries has definitely been good for the environment.

While he was in power, President Richard Nixon joined forces with a Democratic Congress to pass legislations that changed the day-to-day experiences of almost every individual living in the United States. The laws were meant to limit air pollution across the country, clean up hundreds of rivers and streams, and set up a federally run and functional Environmental Protection Agency. The most surprising thing about these legislations is that they worked. Despite containing flaws, they achieved their goals with more success than critics ever anticipated. Their stipulations cost businesses less finances to implement than even the most optimistic supporters predicted. The laws are still in place even today, although there are constant disagreements between the EPA and various industries on issues related to their scope. Employees of the agency consult the latest scientific findings issues to do with the environment, and then convert them into law. It appears as if Americans benefit from this process, with the system appearing to work just fine.

In early 2011, the environmental law community set in motion plans to oppose an attack by Congress on the regulatory known as REINS (Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny), which was an act set up that year. They were planning to do so by introducing a bill called HR10 that would deter any major rule from being put into effect before it is first given a go-ahead by a joint resolution of the two Houses of Congress. The well-known definition of a major rule is any guideline having economic effects that exceed $100 million. Obviously, the bill was an attempt to deter any newly-passed environmental regulations from being put into action. Most notably are greenhouse gas regulations that at the time were being formulated in response to an endangerment finding by the EPA under the Clean Air Act.

Such kind of legislative veto can be seen as major alteration of how responsibilities are assigned in the current administrative law system. Since the idea of administrative agencies was fronted in the late nineteenth century up to when the New Deal was set up, Congress has always been the one coming up with statutory goals. This has particularly been the case when it comes to developing U.S. environmental laws. Also, Congress often leaves most of the economic and scientific fact-finding as well as implementation of regulations to expert agencies. While it is the one that tells them what to do, the President acts as their general apart from the so-called independent agencies. How the administrative state functions has undergone revolution in a way that it accommodates that structure. Regulatory agendas are determined by the more drawn-out influences of presidential politics. Also, career employees of these agencies maintain a certain measure of independence and policy continuity.

The REINS Act would require regulatory agencies to answer directly to Congress and not the president, at least with respect to rulemaking. Such a situation would bring administrative law to an end as we know it. Regulations would no longer be the result of legislative authority outsourced to the executive, and which is supposed to undergo judicial review so that it can adhere to the Congressional outline. Instead, all the notable new rules would need a go-ahead from Congress. This bill may have purported to preserve the right to question rules even after it has been approved. However, conducting a judicial review of a certain rule for conformity to Congress intent once the house has approved it would appear superfluous.

Restriction of application of toxic pesticides, GMO labeling and the outlawing of secret political contributions from the outside all have something in common. All of them are rather popular environmental control measures that are being blocked by well-funded corporate interests sanctioned by a ruling by the Supreme Court called Citizens United. These corporations are the same ones that cause large scale pollution that significantly harms the environment. Now, they are investing funds into fronting candidates and pushing policies that are likely to increase their profits at the expense of an environmental-friendly planet. It is evident that the twin issue of money in politics and organized voter suppression poses a challenge to top democratic principles of fairness, equality and representation. These affect a wide range of areas including issues to do with the environmental movement. Together, they contribute to making political institutions not to be representative or responsive to the wishes and needs of millions of Americans who are concerned about the world around them. It has been observed that whenever the political institutions become dysfunctional, its more difficult to pass the rules and regulations needed to keep the environment safe.

Environmental organizations care about the broader questions on social justice such as those to do with expanding and strengthening Americas democratic institutions. They are aware that, in order to succeed in top issues such as food safety, environmental protection and carbon reduction, the first thing to do is to curtail the deleterious influence of powerful anti-environmental interests within the political system. These organizations have never backed away from the hard fight. For example, in 2015, a community known as Friends of the Earth set in motion a democracy program that advocated for reforms that are necessary rather than just the politically easy ones. The organization is aware that for the environmental movement to achieve success of the political front, it needs to make sure that all American citizens possess an equal front within the U.S. political system. Its plan includes short-term measures to curtail the most prevalent anti-democratic manifestations as well as long-term systematic changes that will radically change the way Americans fund and conduct election campaigns. This program will allow the organization to expand to new areas and solidify its position as the leading democracy movement. By boosting the involvement of its members, voters who care about the environment, and other environmental groups, it will advocate for the democratic reforms required to protect the environment.

It is still not clear whether or not a truly representative democracy, in which elections are not unduly influenced by industry, can be relied on to sufficiently protect environmental interests. At the moment, it seems as if economic hardships and protection of the environment are competing for political attention. This situation raises the question of whether populism is more inclined to short-term corporate interests over communal environmental values that stretch over the long-term. The HR 10 bill mentioned earlier is not a major threat in itself as it is unlikely to go past a presidential veto or a Senate committee. All in all, the political dynamic being perceived at the moment- the feeling that environmentalism cannot win in Congress the way it is currently structured- implies that political reforms need to be the top priority for environmental law. An amendment to the constitution that authorizes reforms related to campaign finance would be a good place to start. Irrespective of the number of legislative battles that environments win, they will still lose the war to keep an environmentally protective system of regulation in place if they are resigned to the fact that Congress unfairly biased against environmental protection.

In addition to members of Congress coming up with a steady stream of bad laws, they are also making it difficult for solid, bipartisan bills that would be beneficial to everyone. A good example is the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill that, if passed, would advocate for the utilization of energy efficient technologies in industrial, commercial and residential sectors. Somehow, some Congressmen are of the opinion that they will lose if everyone wins. The same individuals who are poisoning the US democracy are also determined to contaminate the environment.


Adler, Robert W. "US Environmental Protection Agencys new Waters of the United States Rule: connecting law and science." Freshwater Science 34, no. 4 (2015): 1595-1600.

Bennett, W. Lance, Alan Borning, and Volker Wulf. "Solutions for Economics, Environment and Democracy (SEED): Workshop." In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Communities and Technologies, pp. 329-330. ACM, 2017.

Davies, J. Clarence. Comparing environmental risks: tools for setting government priorities. Routledge, 2014.

Dunlap, Riley E., and Angela G. Mertig. American environmentalism: The US environmental movement, 1970-1990. Taylor & Francis, 2014.

Fritsch, Matthias. "Democracy, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice." Mosaic: a journal for the interdisciplinary study of literature 48, no. 3 (2015): 27-45.

Gersdorf, Catrin, and Juliane Braun, eds. America After Nature: Democracy, Culture, Environment. 2016.

Mannion, DR AM. Global environmental change: a natural and cultural environmental history. Routledge, 2014.


Request Removal

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the website, please click below to request its removal: