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Judith A. Layzer

Judith A. Layzer is Professor of Environmental Policy in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT. She is the author of Natural Experiments: Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment (MIT Press) and The Environmental Case: Translating Values into Policy.

Titles by This Author

Conservatives’ Opposition to Environmental Regulation

Since the 1970s, conservative activists have invoked free markets and distrust of the federal government as part of a concerted effort to roll back environmental regulations. They have promoted a powerful antiregulatory storyline to counter environmentalists’ scenario of a fragile earth in need of protection, mobilized grassroots opposition, and mounted creative legal challenges to environmental laws. But what has been the impact of all this activity on policy? In this book, Judith Layzer offers a detailed and systematic analysis of conservatives’ prolonged campaign to dismantle the federal regulatory framework for environmental protection.

Examining conservatives’ influence from the Nixon era to the Obama administration, Layzer describes a set of increasingly sophisticated tactics--including the depiction of environmentalists as extremist elitists, a growing reliance on right-wing think tanks and media outlets, the cultivation of sympathetic litigators and judges, and the use of environmentally friendly language to describe potentially harmful activities. She argues that although conservatives have failed to repeal or revamp any of the nation’s environmental statutes, they have influenced the implementation of those laws in ways that increase the risks we face, prevented or delayed action on newly recognized problems, and altered the way Americans think about environmental problems and their solutions. Layzer’s analysis sheds light not only on the politics of environmental protection but also, more generally, on the interaction between ideas and institutions in the development of policy.

Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment

Scholars, scientists, and policymakers have hailed ecosystem-based management (EBM) as a remedy for the perceived shortcomings of the centralized, top-down, expert-driven environmental regulatory framework established in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. EBM entails collaborative, landscape-scale planning and flexible, adaptive implementation. But although scholars have analyzed aspects of EBM for more than a decade, until now there has been no systematic empirical study of the overall approach. In Natural Experiments, Judith Layzer provides a detailed assessment of whether EBM delivers in practice the environmental benefits it promises in theory. She does this by examining four nationally known EBM initiatives (the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Program in Austin, Texas, the San Diego Multiple Species Program, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and the California Bay-Delta Program) and three comparison cases that used more conventional regulatory approaches (Arizona’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan and efforts to restore Florida’s Kissimmee River and California’s Mono Basin). Layzer concludes that projects that set goals based on stakeholder collaboration, rather than through conventional politics, are less likely to result in environmental improvement, largely because the pursuit of consensus drives planners to avoid controversy and minimize short-term costs. Layzer’s resolutely practical focus cuts through the ideological and theoretical arguments for and against EBM to identify strategies that hold genuine promise for restoring the ecological resilience of our landscapes.