Element Description: In the United States, the Federal government has been establishing laws to regulate human activities that have an impact on the environment since 1918. The two major policy tools for protecting the environment are rules and inducements. The U.S. implements rules primarily through regulation in the form of design and performance standards, and it can use inducements, or market reform, through rewards and punishments to coerce people.

Some federal statutory environmental laws are provided here:
  • 1918: Migratory Bird And Species Act—protect migratory birds.
  • 1947: Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District created; first air pollution agency in U.S.
  • 1963: Clean Air Act—regulate industrial, waste disposal, and other human activities that result in contamination of the air.
  • 1970: National Environmental Policy Act—requires federal government to consider environmental impact via an environmental impact assessment before taking any significant action, such as building a highway.
  • 1973: Endangered Species Act—seeks to protect various species of animals that are deemed to be threatened or endangered by human activity.
  • 1974: Safe Drinking Water Act—protects human health by governing the operations of public water systems.
  • 1980: Superfund/CERCLA—designed to clean up abandoned hazardous waste sites.
  • 1990: Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990—set new automobile emissions standards, low-sulfur gas, required Best Available Control Technology (BACT) for toxins, reduction in CFCs.
  • 2003: Healthy Forests Restoration Act—protects forests from forest fires by thinning and clearing away vegetation, and reducing hazardous fuels in National Forests.
  • 2009: American Clean Energy and Security Act (proposed)— create clean energy jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce global warming pollution, and transition to a clean energy economy.

Stakeholders: Governmental authority on environmental issues in the United States is highly fragmented. While the EPA is the most comprehensive environmental agency, its authority on these matters is not absolute, and all of the executive branch's departments have some area of environmental authority. This contributes somewhat to the cost and questionable efficacy of the United States' environmental regulation. The legislative branch is also fragmented in Congress and within the states. About seventy committees and subcommittees control water quality policy, for example, and such fragmentation creates both opportunities and problems. While such a variety of committees provide enormous access for environmentalist and industry groups to lobby, the division of tasks means that no one committee or agency looks at environmental problems as a whole.

U.S. industry, citizens, bureaucracy, and government all are stakeholders in environmental federal policy. Oil and coal companies’ profits are especially at stake because they currently have a multi-billion dollar market in fossil fuels that would ideally be replaced by clean and renewable energy with comprehensive environmental legislation. If the U.S. were to take the billions it is investing in coal and oil and put it into clean energy technologies, this would threaten fossil fuel industries.

Additional obstacles to comprehensive environmental legislation in the U.S. are competing regional interests. For instance, since Congresspersons represent their constituents, those who represent coal plant operators in the south have a vested interest in maintaining coal plant funding, while representatives of corn growers in Iowa have a vested interest in pursuing biofuel technologies.

Key Issues: The legislative process in the U.S. is very slow, and it is extremely complicated and difficult to pass bills. This can be a good thing because it attempts to ensure that only deliberate and important bills are enacted, or it can be a bad thing because deliberate and important bills may not be enacted, due to partisan allegiances, regional interests, and industry influence.

The U.S. still has not passed comprehensive environmental legislation to mitigate climate change, nor has it seriously engaged in COP negotiations (the former Bush administration sent a lame duck delegation to the COP-14), or ratified COP global agreements (such as the Kyoto Protocol). The new U.S. delegation, under the leadership of President Obama, is expected to step up participation at the COP-15 negotiations, as President Obama has offered his full support in an international agreement.