Federal Environmental Policy-Making
As a senior staff member toa high-ranking member of the U.S. Senate from a Northeastern state, you have been asked to help prepare an analysis of a half-dozen pending legislative proposals dealing with “threatened” fisheries in the northern Atlantic Ocean. SEveral of the proposals seek to expand the role of the federal government - legislating expanded authority to protect threatened fish stocks by banning all commercial and sports fishing until threatened stocks have recovered. These bills would empower the Fish and Wildlife Service in the U.S. Department of the Interior to undertake studies and make objective determinations about which fish stocks are threatened and when it might be safe to resume fishing. Other bills seek to eliminate entirely the role of the federal government in fisheries management, allowing the market and decisions by the fishing industry to shape fisheries management policy. From the standpoint of the fishing industry, the federal government has no capacity to understand what the fishing industry already knows. Moreover, even temporary bans make it impossible for most fisherman to stay in business. Once they are out of the industry, they are not likely to return. All the pending bills have their supporters and detractors (who have come to lobby your boss).
From what you can tell, there really seem to be legitimate disagreements between and amongst marine scientists, environmental advocacy groups, fishermen’s organizations, state natural resource agencies, and industry spokespeople. Everyone claims to data that “prove” that particular fish stocks are either seriously depleted or making a surprising comeback. Each stakeholder group has its own ideas about what will and won’t help restore the industry - ranging from arguments for subsides to low-interest loans to restrictions on foreign fishing fleets. A number of groups hold the view that any costs to fishermen or the fishing industry generated by federal action ought to be fully compensated.
The Senator has asked you to sketch a list of criteria she might use in evaluating all the pending proposals. What are the most important things to consider - in political and technical terms - and what are your suggestions regarding how and why the Senator might rate or rank each factor? Obviously, the Senator is not just interested in the technical aspects of fisheries management. She is concerned about what is likely to be a tough re-election campaign two years hence. She wants to be on the “winning side” in whatever legislative battle erupts around this issues, so that her likely political opponent can’t point to her political ineffectiveness. What information should the Senator try to get out of the upcoming hearings? What information do you need to complete your analysis (and how would you go about getting that information given that you only have a couple of days to complete this assignment)?
Historically, the Senator has a pretty good environmental record. Right now, though, the economic circumstances in the region, and in her home state in particular, are so dire that the Senator is not likely to take a strong environmental stand that might be seen as ignoring the economic implications of shutting down a very important industry.