Book Review: Political Environmentalism: Going Behind the Green Curtain

Max Shultz
Competitive Enterprise Institute
June 30, 2000

Edited by Terry Anderson
Hoover Institution Press (2000)
Softcover, US$19.95
ISBN: 0-8179-9752-0

Most Americans believe special-interest pleading to be pervasive in Washington, DC. Appropriations bills are larded with budget-busting boondoggles and interest group giveaways. Provisions to promote one interest or another inevitably are tucked inside substantive legislation never to weather scrutiny until too late. Despite its pretensions, environmental politics is no different. In his new book, Political Environmentalism, Terry Anderson of PERC and the Hoover Institution presents a series of essays designed to show that environmental politics are still politics as usual. Lifting the “green curtain” reveals a political process that distorts and hijacks environmental policies no matter how good their intentions.

The opening chapters provide a wide-ranging overview of how political interests influence environmental policy. CEI alumnus Jonathan Adler sets the stage by documenting case after case of special-interest pleading in environmental law, from the machinations of the ethanol lobby to the erection of environmental trade barriers. Clemson University’s Bruce Yandle surveys the academic literature to explain why this should be so. Yandle’s chapter explains why green pretensions don’t protect environmental policy from the pressures of public choice. These two essays are fair warning that, as the stakes in environmental policy increase, so too will the political influence.

Six detailed case studies make up the balance of Political Environmentalism. Contributors Dean Lueck, Andrew Morris, Thomas Stratmann, Elizabeth Brubaker, David Gerard, Kurtis Swope, and Daniel Benjamin examine everything from the manipulation of hazardous-waste cleanup funds to the politics of wilderness designations. Most interesting is Lueck’s chapter on the politics of endangered species. Lueck shows that large timber companies—with substantial private timber holdings—and environmental groups formed a “baptist and bootlegger” coalition to tighten logging restrictions on federal lands in the Pacific Northwest. Some companies even went so far as to hire biologists to find “endangered” owls on others’ lands. Greens got the land lock-ups they wanted, and timber companies hamstrung the competition—while the rest of us got higher wood prices, and many timber workers fond themselves out of jobs.

Anderson chose the title Political Environmentalism to draw a contrast with his ground-breaking book Free Market Environmentalism. As he explains, “For the past 30 years, citizens have accepted political environmentalism as the main, if not the only, way of solving environmental problems.” Rarely examined, however, is the pernicious impact the political process can play on ostensibly well-intentioned legislation. By shining a light on the back-room deals and political machinations underlying much environmental policy, Political Environmentalism shows that government intervention in environmental issues comes at great risk. Before government rushes in to address an alleged “market failure,” it needs to address the failures of its own.

Read Chapter 5, “Unnatural Disaster,” by Environment Probe Executive Director Elizabeth Brubaker

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