Administrative Competence in Environmental Policy Making

Administrative competence refers to the policy-implementing organization of the nation-state with respect to environmental protection. It is influenced by the political institutions discussed in chapter 4, but is both analytically and practically distinct. We address two aspects of administrative competence. The first focuses on national environmental administrative institutions; the second examines the degree of strategic coordination in the environmental planning system.

Chapter 5: National Capacity to Protect the Environment 121 3.3.2. National Environmental Institutions

The environment was a new issue in all countries, emerging only in the 1950s and 1960s. The issue developed in the context of industrialized and developed nation-states, which had well-established administrative structures organized by function. Initially, as environmental problems arose they were handled within relevant departments or ministries. Thus, health effects of air and water pollution occupied the attention of health ministries; problems of biodiversity loss and deforestation were relegated to agriculture, forestry, or land management ministries; and toxic waste disposal issues went to construction or defense ministries.

It was only in the late 1960s and early 1970s that certain nations established national environmental ministries. The first was in the United States, with the creation of the Environmental Protection Administration by executive order of the president in 1970. EPA is a cabinet-level agency whose chief administrator is appointed by the president. Currently, it has about 18,000 employees and an annual budget of approximately $8 billion. By the early 1970s, most industrialized countries had established environmental ministries or agencies.

In general, LDCs developed national environmental institutions a decade or so later than the EDCs, and a number of countries, particularly the smallest and poorest nations, have not established them yet. Thus the date national environmental institutions are established in countries is one measure of administrative competence.

A second measure is the extent to which the most important environmental functions are centralized in the national environmental agency or ministry. For example, the U.S. EPA's mandate includes regulation of air quality, water quality and protection, disposal of hazardous wastes, regulation of chemicals (including pesticides and radioactive wastes), as well as noise regulation. Yet some of these regulatory areas are shared with other departments; for instance, the disposal of hazardous wastes from military installations is primarily the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Defense, which has responsibility for clean-up of hazardous wastes on Formerly-Used Defense Sites (FUDS). In a number of countries, the national environmental ministry shares functions with as many as eight or nine different agencies, which is the case for the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) of China.6

A third measure of competence is whether environmental institutions are established at sub-national levels of the political system. An example again is the United States where, by the early 1970s, each of the states had established departments of environmental protection or conservation. However, in the American example, one is less likely to find environmental bureaus in local governments. Instead, city and county health and land use departments are likely to have absorbed environmental protection functions. In this respect the American pattern is less advanced than that found in China, which has provincial and city/county environmental bureaus.

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