United States

   

Environmental Policies

#39
Key Findings
Despite a history of ambitious environmental protections, the United States scores in the bottom ranks internationally (rank 39) with regard to environmental policies. Its score in this area has improved by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

Climate change has proven a major stumbling block, with many Americans rejecting large-scale emissions-control strategies. The country joined the Paris agreement on climate change, but Congress blocked Obama’s proposed climate-change rules, and a federal court struck down measures to restrict coal-burning power plants.

Under Obama, new fuel-economy standards and other piecemeal efforts kept the country on track to reach emissions reductions consistent with international expectations by 2020. However, as a candidate, Donald Trump embraced an extreme version of climate-change denial, and promised to roll back environmental regulations.

In 2014, the country committed to reducing emissions by 26% to 28% in comparison with 2005 levels. It played a leading role in the 2015 UN climate conference, but still lacks a comprehensive carbon-pricing policy.

Environment

#32

How effectively does environmental policy protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment?

10
 9

Environmental policy effectively protects, preserves and enhances the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy largely protects and preserves the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy insufficiently protects and preserves the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 2
 1

Environmental policy has largely failed to protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
Environmental Policy
6
The United States has had ambitious environmental programs since the early 1970s. By the 1990s, major enactments covered the entire range of significant environmental concerns, including water resources, wetlands, endangered species, and protection of forests. In some areas, such as hazardous-waste management and new sources of air pollution, environmental controls have imposed excessive costs. The issue of climate change, however, requires the implementation of costly controls for the sake of benefits that will occur years or even decades in the future and that will affect the rest of the world as much as the United States itself.

In his 2008 and 2012 election campaigns, President Obama promised to make effective action on climate change a major priority. In 2009-2010, he pushed for a major cap-and-trade bill, but the measure failed in the Senate. Nevertheless, a number of constructive developments have occurred. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has imposed several major measures, including increased fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks, and carbon standards for new coal plants. In 2014, the EPA proposed regulations that would require reductions in power plants’ carbon emissions of 30% by 2030, in effect, largely phasing out coal-fired power plants. Despite the failure to enact a cap-and-trade policy, the United States is on pace to cut carbon emissions by an estimated 16.3% by 2020, consistent with international expectations. In November 2015, President Obama announced that the United States was rejecting the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline that would have carried bitumen produced from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, for processing into oil in Texas. Because producing oil from tar sands has high energy costs, environmentalists criticized the project as undermining the effort to reduce carbon emissions.

Serious obstacles to substantive progress have emerged, however. Although the US joined the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2016, Congress blocked Obama’s proposed climate-change rules, and a federal court struck down Obama administration measures to restrict coal-burning power plants. In his presidential campaign, Donald Trump embraced an extreme version of climate-change denial and promised to reinvigorate the coal mining industry.

Global Environmental Protection

#38

To what extent does the government actively contribute to the design and advancement of global environmental protection regimes?

10
 9

The government actively contributes to international efforts to design and advance global environmental protection regimes. In most cases, it demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, fosters their advancement and initiates appropriate reforms.
 8
 7
 6


The government contributes to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes. It demonstrates commitment to existing regimes and occasionally fosters their advancement or initiates appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but neither fosters their advancement nor initiates appropriate reforms.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
6
From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, the United States exercised leadership on a wide range of international environmental issues. The European Union was often a reluctant participant, although it eventually ratified all the significant international agreements during the period. However, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases (GHGs) was a turning point, as the Clinton administration signed the protocol, committing the United States to a schedule of emission reductions, but later abandoned an evidently doomed effort to win Senate ratification. In 2001, the Bush administration formally withdrew the United States’ endorsement of the protocol. Like most other countries, the United States has failed to achieve the GHG reductions it called for.

The Obama administration has sharply reversed Bush’s policy direction on environmental issues for the executive branch, especially with regard to climate change. Limited support from Congress and the public have constrained U.S. positions in international negotiations. Nevertheless, the U.S. rejoined the United Nations process on climate change at Copenhagen in 2007 and Cancun in 2010. In 2013, the United States reached an important bilateral agreement with China to limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons. In November 2014, it committed to reducing total U.S. carbon emissions by 26% to 28% in comparison with 2005 levels. Although the United States played a leading role in the December 2015 U.N. Conference on Climate Change (COP21), it still lacks a comprehensive national carbon-pricing policy. In his presidential campaign, Donald Trump denied the reality of human-driven climate change and vowed to abandon costly policies designed to control greenhouse gases.
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