Congress, Executives, Lobbiests and Scientists: Their Role in Environmental Policy: Part 3

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As environmental politics pick up steam and continue to gain more and more attention, more people are getting involved in and paying attention to the process of environmental policy-making. If you want to get involved or understand environmental politics, you need to understand who the key players in making this policy are. In many cases, these key players mirror the key players for any specific type of policy but, for the sake of this article, I will attempt to highlight specific groups and organizations that provide a strong influence in the formation of environmental policy.

Executive Branch

Every major action in US politics tends to originate from and leave through the executive branch. Because of the President’s enormous power to veto any bill passed through Congress, Congress tends to only push through things they know the President won’t veto. Likewise, although he is not a member of Congress, the President will often have someone introduce a bill on his behalf and with his support into Congress. Therefore, the views of the current President greatly influence the direction of environmental policy within the country. For example, in the previous section I discussed how Reagan’s anti-regulatory stance caused a relaxing of protections put in place under his predecessors. Today, Obama’s concern for the environment has led directly to an increase concern for global warming and attempts at major policy reform.

The President is not the only influence on envirionment in the executive branch, however. Within the Office of the President, there is a whole committee devoted to handling and advising the president on environmental matters, called the Council On Environmental Quality. This council reports to the president on the status of environmental efforts and oversees the implementation of environmental policy by the executive branch’s agencies.

Once environmental policy has been put into place it is enforced through the agencies of the Executive branch. The agency most influential for environmental policy is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While one might think that the EPA’s role is only to enforce what is put into place, the truth is that much of the actual implications and effects of a policy is determined by the implementation of a law or policy (see Part 4, on the process of policy making), so the EPA is an important entity in creating environmental policy as well as in enforcement.


It is not often talked about, but a core part of Congressional politics is the committee. Committees are where bills originate; they are where they must first be approved; they are where they return to for revision; and they are where they are most often killed (hence the phrase “died in committee”).

Here are the major committees that relate to environmental policy:

Senate Committee of -

House Committee of -

These committees are most likely where most environmental policies will originate, For example, the bill introducing a carbon cap-and-trade system in 2009 was introduced by Congressmen Ed Markey and Henry Waxman through the Committee on Energy and Commerce. In addition to these committees, other committees may be involved in contributing to bills and policy, often through the efforts of a subcommittee. For example, the Committees of Appropriations (the ones who decide where money gets spent) both have subcommittees responsible for environmental spending.

Also, from time to time there will be special committees formed to perform or examine specific topics. For example, there is currently a Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. These committees are voted in by Congress and only exist for a limited time and have limited jurisdiction. This committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, for instance, does not have the authority to draft legislation but can only work with other committees to put together legislation.

Lobbies: Interest Groups and Industry Leaders

The influence of lobbies and interest groups in Washington politics is immense. Politics is ultimately a messy endeavor that involves a lot of money and conflicted interests. Sometimes those with the most money are most influential.Sometimes those who speak loudest are the only ones who get heard. These are the people looking for those instances where money and loud and intense lobbying can influence politics. These groups are made up of all kinds of people and organizations. Here’s what they involve:

Producer Interest Groups: It is no secret that industries spend billions of dollars every year to try to sway politicians to their sides. Many companies stand to gain or lose a lot based on the actions made in Washington. New environmental regulations can cost large corporate factories millions each year; so it is natural for them to put individuals in place to protect their interests. Many industries have some sort of producer interest group, often a separate body who receives funds from its members, to help “protect” its interests from regulations that may harm its business. For example, the agricultural business has a strong lobby that spends millions each year to protect its steady flow of subsidies to farmers.

Unfortunately, these industrial lobbies tend to be negative towards environmental actions because environmental regulation normally curtails an industries freedoms. Fledgling businesses that may stand to benefit from environmentally friendly policies, such as subsidies supporting alternative energy, normally do not have the cash flow to support a large group of lobbyist, although they do exist.

Environmental Interest Groups: There are a host of interest groups that have varying degrees of influence in Washington. These groups keep full time lobbyist on staff in Washington to help fight for various causes. They raise money and support through every day citizens, like yourelf, who are concerned about environmental safety. There are any number of interests groups, each pushing for various causes within Congress.

How does lobbying work? It works in a very simple and almost stupifying way: lobbyists live in Washington and get paid to befriend politicians. They take them out to dinners, get to know their families, and explain their views in a friendly, yet influential, way. Their goal is to, in times of crisis–when an important bill is being considered in Congress–be able to call up a powerful member and have a heartfelt conversation that sways that member towards their views. In addition to this one-on-one influence they hold confrences and seminars to push their cause.


The last group of note is the scientific community, both within Universities and within industry and governmental labs. These scientists have a large effect on environmental policy because they provide the data and expertise that will support environmental aciton. During congressional hearings on environmental matters, scientists will be asked to present data and their professional opinions on the proposed actions. In addition, many scientists are appointed as advisors, council members, and to other positions in the executive branch so that there scientific support behind the actions to support the environment.


These are the main influences in forming environmental policy. Ultimately, however, it is you, the citizen, who must push for changes to our policies so that we can protect our environment. It is only with widespread support that the difficult but pressing changes will be able to go into place to help protect this world.

This post is part of the series: How Environmental Policy is Made

Politics are messy but environmental danger is real. How does such an important topic get addressed without our complex and monolithic system of government? This series provides a look into the history, players, process, and problems involved in trying to enact and modify environmental policy.

  1. How Environmental Policy is Made: Introduction
  2. How Environmental Policy is Made–Part 2, History of Environmental and Science Policy
  3. How Environmental Policy is Made–Part 3, Key Players
  4. How Environmental Policy is Made–Part 4, Process
  5. How Environmental Policy Is Made–Part 5, Role Of Science
  6. How Environmental Policy Is Made–Part 6, Problems and Hurdles