Investigating the Driving Factors behind the Policy Process

By the turn of the twentieth century the global scientific community had come to a consensus on the dangers of climate change. In early 2001 the (IPCC) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a series of reports highlighting the extent and potential consequences of climate change (Layzer 2016). In light of this information however President George W. Bush vowed not to reduce carbon emissions (Layzer 2016). This paper will use different political theories to explain the driving factors behind President Bush’s opposition to policies regulating carbon emissions that could have provided a much needed early start to reducing human-induced climate change.

During his presidency President Bush justified his opposition to adapting policies to regulate carbon emissions in two main ways. First he challenged the scientific consensus on research regarding climate change and suggested that further studies were required before such policies could be enacted (Layzer 2016). However, after scientific research on climate change had solidified and refuted skeptical alternatives to global warming it became increasingly difficult to challenge the legitimacy and immediacy of the climate change threat. Alternatively President Bush justified his opposition towards regulatory policies by saying the United States was suffering from an “energy crisis” and therefore could not risk limiting the use of fossil fuels (Layzer 2016). In doing so, President Bush was securing oil-industry leaders their livelihood. According to Kraft and Furlong (2010) advocates of group theory argue that the driving factors behind policy-making are special interest groups. Supporters of group theory would argue that the presence of multiple interest groups would create a balance in the policy-making process (Kraft and Furlong 2010). In this case however the presence of interest groups such as environmentalists in the United States, and the international community at large, failed to influence the Bush administration on stricter emissions regulations. Even with well-recognized experts advocating for stricter regulations the Bush administration failed to create laws controlling carbon emissions in the United States. This case demonstrates how some groups are more influential than others suggesting that contrary to group theory, the policy-making process is rarely balanced out between interest groups.

A different political theory suggests that rather than several interest groups, it is in fact a group of elites that affect policy-making. Elite theory highlights how public policy is influenced by a small group of people rather than the general public (Kraft and Furlong 2010). Elites could be economic elites, such as corporate executives, or professionals, such as scientists (Kraft and Furlong 2010). In this case economic elites of the oil industry are to gain from the Bush administration’s opposition to emissions regulations, suggesting that the administration was influenced by the industry to act in a specific way. Although elite theory can be applicable to this case in highlighting the administration’s failure to appeal to the opinion of the general public on increasing regulations, it creates a cynical view of the policy-making process. Elite theory does not recognize alternative ways to influence governmental decision-making.

In the end what forced the Bush administration to create regulatory policies was by using legislation. In 2007 the Supreme Court challenged the administration’s decision not to regulate greenhouse gases by concluding the gases as pollutants and ruling that the failure to regulate them would be a breach of the Clean Air Act (Layzer 2016). This forced President Bush to make some executive decisions even though he had already reached the end of his presidency. This is an example of institutional theory which, simply put, emphasizes the role of rules and government structure in enabling or disabling political interests (Kraft and Furlong 2010). In this case the presence of different interest groups did not balance out the policy-making process. Likewise the advice from professional climate scientists and cultural elites worldwide failed to force the Bush administration to enact regulatory policies. In the end it was the use of existing laws that forced the Bush administration to act, highlighting the significance of government structure and legislation in policy-making.



Layzer, Judith A. 2016. The Environmental Case. Los Angeles: Sage Publications Inc, 380-420

Kraft, Michael E, and Scott R Furlong. 2010. Public Policy. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 66-72

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