The Public Policy Issue
At the beginning of the 21st century, a growing fight has risen between those who would like to revoke the existing environmental policies and those who would like to see the better environmental protection in the United States. According to Thomas (2007), environmental policy is unique because the underlying issues of ecology are more fundamental to the survival of species than most issues of day to day politics. In the United States, environmental policy has radical implications, since it raises issues of uncertainty about the effects of human activity. Thomas (2007) indicated that environmental policy challenges the assumptions in most economic thoughts that nature is simply a store of resources to be utilized.
Jordan & Lenschow (2008) noted that observers have criticized the American environmental policy for its failure to confront the global climate change, address high rates of energy consumption and restrain a culture of high consumer oriented consumption. Many scholars have attempted to address environmental policy and the challenge of sustainability. According to Dovers (2005), environmental policy in the United States is characterized by unconnected, partial policy interventions that are poorly implemented and monitored; hence, there is a need for ongoing policy improvement.
Benchmarks/Evaluation Criteria Used
Environmental policy evaluation has gained popularity over the recent years. It is important to establish a set of criteria to ensure the good operations of environmental policy. This criterion is necessary to ensure that environmental policy integration does not remain a broad general principle without operational value. Filho in his studies indicated that environmental policy evaluation criteria can allow for a regular review of the progress towards achieving a policy target and setting the regional benchmarks (2010). Crabbé & Leroy (2012) further noted that environmental policy is portrayed by a large degree of convolution; in this case, the complexity of environmental problems including the uncertainties related to it. Harrington, Morgenstern & Sterner (2009) noted that environmental policy debates have evolved considerably over the past four decades, moving from the political fringe, through a Manichean phase and finally into the mainstream. In the mainstream, environmental policies are considered on their merits, rather than as symbols.
The benchmarks that can be used in environmental policy evaluation include; effectiveness, efficiency, incentives, individual freedom, political attractiveness and consistency. Effectiveness determines whether or not the environmental policy is meeting the goals. Efficiency, on the other hand, determines whether the goals are being achieved in a cost effective manner. Consistency has broadly held values, such as equity or fairness, non-intrusiveness and public participation (Harrington, Morgenstern & Sterner, 2009).
Measuring consistency in environmental policy evaluation means assessing, whether the potential contradictions and conflicts between policy aims are minimized. Thomas (2007) noted that incentives ensure that encouragement is used for implementation, so there is not just the negative enforcement. Political attractiveness plays an important role, because it ensures support of politicians, and the general public guaranteeing opposition from powerful lobby groups does not occur. The environmental policy success must ascertain that the restriction on individual freedoms is not minimized (Thomas, 2007).
According to Harrington, Morgenstern & Sterner (2009) a policy is ineffective in reaching its goals and is clearly deficient. Effectiveness of a policy entails the probability of success, the ability to continue to be relevant over a long period, flexibility to cope with changing situations. This benchmark seeks to avoid conflicts and overlapping with other policies and being simple enough to be understood (Thomas, 2007). In addition, an environmental policy that meets its goals at the excessive cost is wasting societal resources that might better be used for other purposes. The majority of economic analysis of environmental policies in the United States is performed in the process of developing the policies themselves. Strong communication channels and links between the various policy makers is a necessity for ensuring the consistency within the environmental policy (Filho, 2010). Harrington, Morgenstern & Sterner (2009) indicated that environmental policies should be subjected to ex ante analysis and debated as part of the evaluation criteria.
Reasons for Choosing The Benchmarks/Evaluation Criteria
The reasons for choosing the three benchmarks are on the basis that the social benefits of environmental policy are greater than the costs. Ervin, Kahn & Livingston (2003) indicated that the criterion used is important because of the need to address the most egregious environmental problems over the last three decades. It has been noted that the policymakers did not choose the most effective policies and built many inefficiencies and inconsistencies into the environmental regulatory system. Ervin, Kahn & Livingston (2003) also indicated that the three benchmarks address issues related to fairness of the distribution of environmental benefits across social groups and across times, features that were neglected in early policy choices.
In their research,Crabbé & Leroy (2012) indicated that the environmental policy evaluation criteria used pays enough attention to the question of how policy has dealt with the complexity of environmental protection in the United States. The subsequent evaluation will raise questions about the appropriateness of the chose policy strategies and policy instruments, given, albeit reduced, the level of complexity (Crabbé & Leroy, 2012). It is, therefore, important to establish if or not the policy is succeeding.
Consequently, it is important to realize that rarely do policies completely succeed or fail, hence leaving an unclear picture of the role of policy. Thomas (2007) noted that obsession with notions of success and failure ignores the potentially more fruitful possibilities of environmental policy evaluation, such as determining the worth of the policy. The criteria above may appear sensible as indicated by Thomas (2007), but they may not be the most appropriate in every situation.
In conclusion, environmental policies may appear to be unsuccessful rather than actually fail, because people apply the incorrect criteria in measuring failure and success. There are measuring complicatedness that is selecting the objects to measure and the method of measurement. It should, therefore, be noted that the assessment of environmental policy is evidently a complex task. Nevertheless, awareness of the complexity and of issues that can affect the outcomes of an evaluation and will assist the design of the assessment and its convenience.