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The industries that generate environmental risks in the United States have long been hostile to regulatory programs that increase their costs of operation and reduce their profits. While industry may have been unprepared for, and thus poorly organized to resist, the first wave of federal environmental legislation enacted during the “environmental decade” of the 1970s, it quickly marshaled its forces. Regulated or potentially regulated entities, their trade associations, and their lobbyists began a concerted effort to defeat, delay, and weaken environmental regulation.

This book chapter describes the process by which regulatory opponents successfully relied on free market ideology to couch their opposition to health, safety, and environmental regulation in terms that would resonate with the American public in ways it never had before. They portrayed regulation as the product of overreaching, meddlesome, wrong-headed, and power hungry bureaucrats that would almost inevitably detract from rather than enhance social welfare. In doing so, regulatory opponents enabled politicians to justify their efforts to derail and weaken protective regulation in terms consistent with pursuit of the public interest, rather than as a quid pro quo for the support of narrow, self-interested elements of the regulatory community. The chapter also analyzes how industry and its political supporters have relied on a familiar litany of anti-regulatory arguments generated by conservative ideologues to throttle the efforts of those who support government initiatives to tackle climate change. Although the litany has been used most recently to combat climate change legislation and regulation, it consists of arguments that regulatory opponents have used repeatedly throughout the history of U.S. environmental protection efforts.

GW Paper Series

GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 493; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 493

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