Does Federalism Make a Difference

This review suggests that administrative decentralization and/or devolution may bring about the same effects as federalism. A few comparative studies have tested the effect of federalism on environmental performance of nation-states. For example, Lundqvist asks whether differences in political structures, including federalism, cause differences in selection of environmental policy alternatives. He designs a comparative study of three countries—the U.S., Canada, and Sweden—which are "most similar" with respect to the dependent variable (controlling air pollution) but different in political structure.

Lundqvist finds that Canada's Clean Air Act of 1971 uses an Air Resource Management (ARM) approach which establishes criteria for quality of ambient air. Sweden's Environmental Protection Act uses the Best Available Means (BAM) approach, which establishes standards for maximum permissible concentration of air pollutants at the point source. The U.S. originally followed the ARM approach, but with Clean Air Act Amendments, combined this approach with BAM. The Canadian policy authority is most decentralized, while the U.S. increasingly gave power to the federal government. Policy powers are most centralized in Sweden.17 This appears to follow the degree of decentralization within geographic distributions of power: Canadian provinces have strong decisional authority as compared to the weaker U.S. states, and Sweden is a unitary state system. However, other factors, such as degree of judicial involvement and political culture, also influence the relationships.

A second perspective on the issue of federalism's relevance to environmental protection comes from a study of Kenyan approaches to sustainable development. Orie asks what potential effects federalism would have on environmental management in the context of developing multi-partyism. He compares the likely impacts of cooperative/coordinate federalism (where component governments would have some degree of autonomy) with organic federalism, where the central government would play the dominant role. He argues that organic forms of federalism (closer to unitary than federal rules) would best conduce to reflective management of the environment in nations like Kenya, where not only are the institutional and jurisdictional framework organizationally fragmented, but also there is fragmentation along ethnic, tribal, and regional lines.18

A recent study of environmental policy and performance in industrialized countries, draws hypotheses on the role that political institutions, including federalism, play. Desai analyzes the treatment of seven states; four are federal (the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Germany) and three unitary (Britain, Italy, and Japan). Based on descriptions and analyses of chapter authors, he hypothesizes:

[F]ederal systems with a long tradition of a weak central government, winner-take-all electoral systems, developmenta-list ideology, and states or provinces economically heavily dependent on exploitation of natural resources are likely to be characterized more by conflict than by collaboration among national and state or provincial governments. On the other hand, federal systems with a neocorporatist policymaking system and a proportional representation electoral system are likely to have more collaborative federal-state relations. In a nonfederal unitary system, the local government is likely to represent its citizens' voice for local environmental protection. Local governments are likely to be an important influence on the central government for stronger policy actions to protect the environment.19

In short, federalism alone is not associated with large differences in environmental policy outcomes. However, in combination with other factors, such as electoral institutions, political culture, and corporatist structure, it does make a difference.

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    Can Federalism Make a Difference?
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