Environmental Policy from the Great Society to 1980: A Coalition Comes Unglued

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Environmentalism, born in the milieu of activism and protest during the 1960s, aimed not only to save the ecosystem but also to open up administrative and policy processes to more democratic impulses that proved hostile to individualism, liberty, and property rights. For conservatives like Reagan, the fundamental challenge of environmental policy therefore lay not in business complaints about rising compliance costs or economists' concern about market inefficiency, but in its animating ideas and its institutional objectives. It is important to understand that these challenges were born, not of the older conservationist policies that many conservatives could support, but rather of the post-1970 variant of environmental policy that sought to democratize the policy process and supplant individualism and liberty with collectivism and planning. An effective response would require a conservative counterrevolution in the policy process that directly addressed the ideational and institutional bases of environmental policy. That response would flow from the confluence of three distinct streams of conservative thought: libertarianism, traditionalism, and anticommunism. This chapter discusses how the fusion of these distinct elements of postwar conservative thought formed the basis for a vigorous and visceral conservative reaction to environmentalist programs. It then turns to an appraisal of two landmark pieces of environmental legislation of the 1970s - the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) and the Clean Air Amendments Act of 1977 (CAAA) - both of which clearly illustrate the ideational and institutional challenges that environmental policy posed for conservatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationConservatism and American Political Development
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199852291
ISBN (Print)9780195373929
StatePublished - Oct 3 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


  • Anticommunism
  • Clean air amendments act of 1977
  • Conservatives
  • Environmental policies
  • Surface mining control and reclamation act
  • Traditionalism

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