The Dimensions of Federalism: State Governments and Pollution Control Policies

The Dimensions of Federalism: State Governments and Pollution Control Policies

by William R. Lowry

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The resurgence of state involvement in policymaking in recent years has renewed a long-standing debate about the most effective role for states within a federal system of government. In The Dimensions of Federalism, William R. Lowry assesses and examines the responsiveness and innovation of state governments in the area of air and water pollution control policies. Building a theoretical model that demonstrates the relationship between state and federal governments, Lowry combines econometric analysis of data on all fifty states with an in-depth study of a leading state in each of four major areas of pollution policy to conclude that state policymakers will often experiment and willingly improve upon federal pollution control standards. But this willingness is tempered, he maintains, both by a fear of losing important constituents to interstate competition and by the difficulty of coordinating efforts and disseminating information without the active involvement of the federal government. Originally published in 1992, this book continues to be pertinent in a political climate that will inevitably see an increased role for states in domestic policymaking. It will be of great interest to students and scholars of American public policy, federalism, and environmental politics and policy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822398332
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 06/01/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 566 KB

About the Author

William R. Lowry is Associate Professor of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis.

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The Dimensions of Federalism

State Governments and Pollution Control Policies

By William R. Lowry

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1992 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9833-2


A Theory of State Leadership

On 10 August 1989 officials of eight northeastern states announced new regulations on automobile emissions that were stricter than those proposed by President Bush just weeks earlier. Observers and journalists expressed some surprise that this initiative by the states exceeded the policy response that the national government had formulated. They should not have been surprised.

Maligned and criticized for two centuries, state governments have arguably been undergoing a transformation in recent years. Criticisms of state parochialism date to Madison's description of subnational variations on national policy as the principal impediment to effective American government. Since then, state governments have been characterized as backwaters for the worst excesses of American politicians and bastions for the most shameful of American policies. Fear and mistrust of state governments greatly contributed to the centralized nature and hierarchical structure of domestic policies that now shape American political life. Much of this criticism was justified, but an alternative perspective is currently gaining support. Some now argue that some state governments, as the result of a recent revitalization, have taken the lead in policy efforts in the United States. This perspective asserts that state governments, with some qualifications, "now are arguably the most responsive, innovative, and effective level of government in the American federal system."

How can we analyze this asserted leading role for state governments in the federal system? We need to assess both the consistency and the exceptionalism of state leadership. How widespread are appropriate responses to policy needs among state governments? What makes the exceptional programs outstanding? What impact do they have? To understand the leadership of state governments, in this book I consider overall state behavior and the actions of leading state programs.

Consideration of the former, the overall behavior of state governments, describes the variance in state responsiveness and enables identification of state leaders in specific policy areas. If we define policy needs as the relative lack of publicly demanded goods, the most apparent evidence of responsive state behavior is the ability to match local policy supplied to local policy needed. State governments could provide national leadership through consistently appropriate responsiveness to societal needs. This is indeed the promise of a federal system. However, even those who espouse the state resurgence argument do not suggest that this promise has yet been realized. The transformation of state governments has not occurred across the board. As a result, variance in the performance of state governments is evident in most policies. Thus I offer comparative analysis of all fifty states to discuss the extent of responsive state behavior and to identify state leaders as those state governments with the most developed programs in specific areas of policy needs.

Analysis of the latter phenomenon, the efforts of those state leaders, generates answers to basic questions of leadership. What do state leaders do? How do they disseminate ideas? How do they affect developments in other states? For states to take the lead in policy responsiveness, they must have followers. After all, leadership involves not only creativity and innovation, but also communication and organization. Therefore, I examine the states that have developed responsive programs and discuss the depth and impact of their developments.

My basic thesis is that state leadership, including both the overall matching of response to need and the influence of specific programs, is affected by intergovernmental dimensions of the policy involved. These dimensions, to be more fully discussed shortly, concern the vertical involvement of the federal government in state behavior and the horizontal potential for interstate competition.

The context of this analysis is the behavior of states and their leadership role in the policy areas of pollution control. Pollution control involves many specific issues. This analysis is directed at four of them: stationary source air pollution, point source water pollution, mobile source air pollution, and nonpoint source water pollution. These four areas are discussed for both pragmatic and theoretical reasons. Practically, they comprise some of the most important and consequential aspects of environmental protection in the United States. Theoretically, they constitute four cases covering a range of situations that vary along dimensions important in a federal system of government.

Why is analysis of this thesis in this context worthy of consideration? The efficacy of pollution control policies, as I show in subsequent chapters, depends heavily on state behavior. Since pollution control is important to quality of life, the prevalence of responsive behavior and the efforts of leading states may hold important implications. State policymakers can lead by formulating appropriate programs, innovating, exceeding minimum standards, disseminating ideas, and coordinating other state efforts. If state leadership is determined by the federal dimensions of horizontal competition and vertical involvement, then the ultimate development and efficacy of those pollution control policies will vary according to those same dimensions.

If my arguments are supported, then states do not consistently shirk their policy responsibilities nor do they always provide the momentum behind effective policy response. This seemingly simple point contradicts the perception by the public that irresponsible state pandering to industry has stimulated many aspects of pollution control statutes; the characterizations of state governments that have shaped interest group behavior on these issues; and the analyses that have blamed states for numerous policy failures in these areas. It is also counter to excessively positive descriptions of state behavior used to justify political demands for the decentralization of domestic policies gaining prominence in recent years. If the dimensions of federalism do have an impact on state behavior, then the analysis has important implications for many American policy efforts. The role of state governments in the initiation and implementation of numerous domestic programs may warrant reconsideration. Reconsideration will benefit from analysis that accounts for the effects of structural dimensions of federalism.

This chapter is designed to accomplish several things. First, this introductory section has identified the leadership of state governments as the dependent variable, the phenomenon to be explained. Next, I utilize different perspectives on federalism to build a model of state behavior. The extant literature suggests that overall state behavior is variable and subject to numerous influences besides policy needs. Third, I place the model within the federal context by describing dimensions for differentiating the federal policies that states must implement. Horizontal competition and vertical involvement are defined as the dimensions of federalism. The completed model is then used to generate hypotheses about the extent, depth, and impact of state leadership in specific policies. Fourth, I provide some background for the following chapters by discussing pollution control prior to the significant federal interventions of the 1970s and the subsequent differentiation of policies. Finally, I discuss the design of the remainder of the study.

A Model of State Government Behavior

States matter. Policies are not simply created by national officials and then routinely implemented by state and local governments as if they were unquestioning automatons in some Weberian machine. Rather, state officials make policy and adjust national efforts to match parochial circumstances. Here lies both the danger and the promise of federalism. The danger of a federal system is that subnational policymakers will respond only to private, not public, demands, thereby skewing policies to the extent that outcomes no longer match national intentions. The promise of a federal system is that subnational autonomy will provide flexibility, innovation, and efficiency by allowing policymakers who are close to the scene to tailor policy efforts to local public needs. For state governments to be leading policy efforts, state responses must be appropriate.

State responses to policy needs have not displayed the extremes in performance that would validate either the worst fears or the highest hopes of a federal system. State policies are neither totally dominated by internal economic considerations nor completely responsive to public needs. A model of state government behavior must therefore include factors suggested by several perspectives. This section reviews those perspectives.

The general argument motivating this review is that no single factor dominates state behavior. If any one factor alone did determine state behavior, then further examination of the leadership role of state governments would be unnecessary. For example, if the severity of the problem at hand solely determined state responses, then all one would need to know to understand state behavior would be the level of policy need. Responsiveness would be constant and the potential impacts of leading state programs would not matter. Dissemination of state innovations across state lines, coordination of state efforts, and the willingness of state officials to exceed federal guidelines would be inconsequential. Thus, perfect matching of state response to state need is offered as the fallible argument, or "straw man," that is to be countered by other perspectives.

Hypothesized matching of response and need

Political analysts have long extolled the virtues of a system of government that enables close contact between the people and the policymakers. Montesquieu praised small republics wherein "the interest of the public is more obvious, better understood, and more within the reach of every citizen." A system of federalism wherein different levels of government share responsibilities can therefore not only provide buffers to dangerous concentrations of power, but can also facilitate citizen participation and involvement in important decisions at subnational levels. As a famous exponent argues, the "virtue of the federal system lies in its ability to develop and maintain mechanisms vital to the perpetuation of the unique combination of governmental strength, political flexibility, and individual liberty, which has been the central concern of American politics." Hypothetically, subnational policies can and will be directed at the problems at hand by interested, involved citizens.

This classical perspective has been the subject of renewed interest in recent years. In the late 1980s, following a period during which subnational levels were criticized for seeming to be unresponsive, some observors described a revitalization of state governments that promised an important role for the influence of policy needs on state behavior. State governments were characterized as building responsible and professional political institutions that could provide effective policy responsiveness to current problems. These authors described state governments as potentially "the new heroes of American federalism, implementing national policies throughout their borders in a responsible and responsive manner." For intergovernmental programs, this argument suggested significant potential for responsible and professional implementation of domestic policies. Several reasons underlie this perspective.

First, representation has become more equitable. Due to civil rights legislation and judicial decisions such as Baker v. Carr (one person, one vote), states now benefit from ideas and perspectives from a variety of previously unheard viewpoints. Considerable evidence for this development exists. For example, between 1970 and 1988, the number of black state legislators doubled and the percentage of women holding state office quadrupled. These developments do not by themselves guarantee higher quality legislation at the state level, but they do suggest increased potential for fresh ideas and approaches.

A second and related reason is that participation in state policy processes has increased. Technically, federal statutes mandate notice and comment procedures wherein relevant parties are encouraged to attend public hearings. Environmental statutes mandating public participation include the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response. Further, interest groups such as environmentalists are motivated to utilize these mechanisms at the state level. The responsibility of state governments for many issues of concern to environmentalists is widely recognized as "part of the legacy of Ronald Reagan's presidency." Whether or not increased participation fosters responsive programs is an arguable prospect, but it does ensure that viewpoints other than those of traditional economic interests will be heard.

Third, following a brief period of fiscal restraint exemplified by Proposition 13 in California, some states responded to decentralization during the economic downturns in the early 1980s by levying more taxes and then, subsequent to economic recovery, found themselves with fiscal surpluses. Those surpluses allowed state policymakers to increase expenditures at a faster rate than was occurring at either the national or local levels. One can only take this argument so far, for the record of state governments in replacing the federal cuts of the Reagan administration was hardly uniform. However, one could still argue that state policymakers did develop new sources of income, such as lotteries, which may enhance independence in future years.

Fourth, while mobility between state and national office has always been pursued by politicians, greater visibility and more extensive media attention in recent years has enhanced the importance of a state official's record. One need look no further than the candidacy of Massachusetts governor Dukakis in his 1988 presidential bid for evidence of this phenomenon. The increased visibility of subnational policymakers provides a rational reason to expect ambitious state officials to pursue responsible policies.

Fifth, the development of state political institutions has fostered competition in the policy arena. Competition often takes the form of innovation and new ideas, thereby providing policy leadership. Evidence for institutional growth is found in all branches. Governorships have centralized and consolidated. All but three states now have four-year terms for their governors and allow successive terms. Further, governors now have power to make more appointments and veto more legislation. All but seven state legislatures now meet annually and have become more like the national legislature in terms of longevity, salaries, and committee structure. State courts have become more active and more involved in numerous areas. Finally, state bureaucracies have paralleled elected bodies in their growing sophistication and professionalization. While the impact of each individual change is debatable, together they at least suggest increasing activity at the state level.

The state resurgence argument suggests reconsideration of the role of need in determining state behavior. If states have indeed developed responsive institutions, then at least some correlation between need and response could be expected. Several empirical analyses have dampened these expectations. Work on air pollution and hazardous waste policies in the late 1970s and early 1980s showed little evidence of "matching." Analyses of hazardous waste and groundwater policies in the latter part of the 1980s also display a rather weak relationship between severity and state responsiveness. Even early proponents of the state resurgence argument acknowledge that other variables besides policy needs, such as available resources, affect state behavior.

This literature suggests wariness in heavy reliance on the matching hypothesis to explain state behavior. While some correlation between severity and response may be evident, state behavior is likely to be affected by other factors as well. Still, the need variable is important to this study for several reasons. First, some correlation between severity and response is expected, but that correlation may vary across policies depending on the influence of other factors that I discuss below. Variance in matching suggests the potential for influence from leading state programs on overall state behavior. Second and related, inclusion of the severity variable in the model should aid identification of the conditions under which states do respond to public needs. Third, leading state programs can be identified in those states that display responsive behavior to severe pollution problems. The need variable in this study is measured by actual levels of pollution and by the presence within the state of sources that contribute to pollution problems.

Alternative hypotheses of state behavior

As rational as the matching hypothesis may sound, various literatures suggest that other economic or political variables also affect state behavior. In fact, matching has rarely been a popular characterization of state behavior in American political analysis. Rather, state governments have been characterized as responding to factors other than need. Several of these alternative perspectives are considered below.

Paved with national intentions. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the most critical view of state governments is that the road to federal policy failure is paved with state modifications of national intentions. This perspective suggests that private parochial interests at the state level modify national policy efforts to the point that policy outcomes reflect very little of stated intentions. Madison may have been the first to offer this viewpoint, but he was hardly the last. Analysts since Madison have suggested that powerful private interest groups within the state determine state behavior in pollution control policies.


Excerpted from The Dimensions of Federalism by William R. Lowry. Copyright © 1992 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents


Preface to the Paperback Edition,
1 A Theory of State Leadership,
2 Stationary Source Air Pollution Control,
3 Point Source Water Pollution Control,
4 Mobile Source Air Pollution Control,
5 Nonpoint Source Water Pollution Control,
6 The State of State Leadership,

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