From The Law and Politics Book Review

Vol. 9 No. 3 (March 1999) pp. 102-103.

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW AND POLICY IN THE EUROPEAN UNION AND THE UNITED STATES edited by Randall Baker. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997. 269 pp. Cloth $65.00. ISBN 0-275-95262-2.

Reviewed by David Vogel, Haas School of Business and Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley. Email:

The increasingly important role played by the European Union in shaping European environmental policy has prompted a growing number of scholars to compare environmental regulation in the European Union and the United States. Both are federal systems with policy-making and implementation divided between a central or federal authority and local governmental units, namely Member States in the case of the EU and states in the case of the United States. While there remain important differences between the two political institutions, most notably the greater fiscal resources and constitutional authority of the American national government, environmental regulation is one of the policy areas in which the EU most resembles a "state." Thus there is much to be gained by exploring how each has confronted the structural issues inherent in any federal system.

One critical challenge is to determine the appropriate balance of regulatory authority between central and local authorities. Having harmonized standards offers important advantages: they create a level playing field for producers who may fear that the "greener" preferences of their national or state governments will place them at a competitive disadvantage within a single market, while assuring producers from less green political jurisdictions that their goods will be able to circulate freely without being hindered by local jurisdictions who want to use their stricter standards as non-tariff barriers. Centralized standards are also critical for addressing the problems created by pollution which transcends local political boundaries.

It is surely not coincidental that the strengthening of environmental standards on both sides of the Atlantic over the last three decades was accompanied by the growing regulatory role of both Brussels and Washington. In a sense, centralization has tended to institutionalize a "race to the top."

At the same time, as the recent introduction of the principle of subsidiarity in Europe and the resurgence of the "New Federalism" in the United States reveals, decentralized policy-making also has its attractions. It enables rules and standards to be more closely tailored to the problems, priorities and resources of the communities most directly affected by them. They may mean that at any given point in time some local standards will be stricter than those in other jurisdictions. Decentralization can promote a diversity of regulatory approaches, rather than straightjacket them.

The edited volume under review grows out of a collaboration among the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University and the public administrations departments of both Erasmus University, Rotterdam, and Leiden University in the Netherlands. Its purpose is compare each regionís policy approaches to similar problems, thus enabling policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic to gain a better perspective on their distinctive evolution.

As with most edited volumes, the quality of the essays is uneven. While some are quite substantive, a number are relatively brief and lack substance. Both the two thematic essays which present an overview of environmental policy-making in both the EU and the US as well as the paired essays on air pollution policy, water pollution policy and solid waste regulation in both Europe and the United States are well-written, well-researched and informative. While they do not offer any new information or analysis to anyone familiar with the extensive literature that already exists on these subjects, they do offer an excellent introductory overview to a considerable amount of information.

What is most disappointing about this volume is that it is "comparative" only in the limited sense that it contains essays on similar aspects of environmental policy-making in Europe and the United States. But with the exception of the brief introductory essay by Randall Baker, none of the essays explicitly compares environmental policymaking in the two federal systems. Indeed none of the authors make even passing reference to any similarities or differences between the analysis or descriptions of developments in their region and those in the other. Each author writes his or her essay as if the other region did not exist.

Nor does the volume contain a concluding essay which highlights the implications of the preceding paired essays for our understanding of regulatory policy-making in Europe and the United States, let alone offer generalizations about the dynamics of regulation in a federal system. As a result, much of the analytical potential of the impressive expertise gathered in this volume is not realized.


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