28 Apr 2010  Working Papers

Environmental Federalism in the European Union and the United States

Executive Summary — Under what circumstances will individual states take the lead in passing the most stringent environmental regulations, and when will the federal government take the lead? When a state takes a leadership role, will other states follow? HBS professor Michael Toffel and coauthors describe the development of environmental regulations in the U.S. and EU that address automobile emissions, packaging waste, and global climate change. They use these three topics to illustrate different patterns of environmental policymaking, describe the changing dynamics between state and centralized regulation in the United States and the EU. Key concepts include:

  • State governments have been an important source of policy innovation and diffusion for automobile emissions in the EU and the U.S., and packaging waste policies in the EU. In these cases, state authorities were the first to regulate, and their regulations resulted in the adoption of more stringent regulatory standards by the central government.
  • With climate change policies, the EU and its member states have developed regulations in tandem, reinforcing each other.
  • In the U.S., state governments developed more innovate regulations than the federal government for both climate change and packaging waste, but these policies have not substantially diffused to other states.


Author Abstract

The United States (US) and the European Union (EU) are federal systems in which the responsibility for environmental policy-making is divided or shared between the central government and the (member) states. The attribution of decision-making power has important policy implications. This chapter compares the role of central and local authorities in the US and the EU in formulating environmental regulations in three areas: automotive emissions for health related (criteria) pollutants, packaging waste, and global climate change. Automotive emissions are relatively centralised in both political systems. In the cases of packaging waste and global climate change, regulatory policy-making is shared in the EU, but is primarily the responsibility of local governments in the US. Thus, in some important areas, regulatory policy-making is more centralised in the EU. The most important role local governments play in the regulatory process is to help diffuse stringent local standards through more centralised regulations, a dynamic which has recently become more important in the EU than in the US. 42 pages.

Paper Information