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Policy & Politics US Capitol

Published on February 14th, 2010 | by Zachary Shahan

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Surprise, Surprise, US Political System is Biased Against Green Laws!

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February 14th, 2010 by Zachary Shahan 

Well, telling us something we should have learned in high school, a new study by researchers from the University of California shows why it is so difficult for the US to move forward on critical environmental issues.

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The basics of it is that there is a severe misrepresentation of rural interests in the US political system. When you get into the details, you see how unbalanced this actually is and how this results in the US being an environmental laggard in the global community.

Due to the fact that every state gets two senators, California, for example, has the same influence in the Senate as each of the 21 least populated and generally rural states despite having approximately the same number of people as all of those states combined.

Put in other terms, Wyoming has 2 senators per million voters and California has 0.06 senators per million voters.

The result of this, for various reasons, is weak environmental action on critical issues.

“The study argues that rural voters tend to be more opposed to environmental legislation, as they are more dependent on private vehicles for transportation and must travel longer distances for professional and personal purposes, while the observable externalities of gasoline consumption, such as local air pollution and traffic congestion affect them less,” Tom Young of Business Green reports.

As a result of this unbalanced representation in the political system, the US is far behind on raising fuel taxes and addressing climate change.

“In many of these cases, this institutional variation is the result of antiquated and idiosyncratic historical choices,” the report says. “But the evidence points to an unintended consequence in the realm of environmental policy.”

In the end, rural concern led by efforts like the American Farm Bureau’s “Don’t CAP Our Future” campaign against cap and trade legislation, unbalanced in the US political system, stunts needed societal improvements to address climate change and other environmental issues and to create more jobs in the US. How to address this problem is the question at hand now.

Merging states, changing the representation system, or reducing the power of the Senate are all potential solutions to this problem, in theory, but highly unlikely to occur. So, for now, it seems that if we are going to address environmental issues in an appropriate way, we need to look at ways to engage these rural voters and their representatives in a positive manner on the pressing environmental issues of the day. Any suggestions?

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Image Credit: Zachary Shahan

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About the Author

spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as the director/chief editor. Otherwise, he's probably enthusiastically fulfilling his duties as the director/editor of Solar Love, EV Obsession, Planetsave, or Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and wind energy expert. If you would like him to speak at a related conference or event, connect with him via social media. You can connect with Zach on any popular social networking site you like. Links to all of his main social media profiles are on ZacharyShahan.com.



  • Chucksars

    It is misleading to say that the political system is biased against green laws, when your article is making the argument that rural communities are biased against green laws. Perhaps the problem is that legislators from the less populous states have not been working toward green reform that includes their constituents as stakeholders, and instead have been holding up a process that they are fearful of.

    Of course urban areas need rural areas to survive, but the opposite is true as well. Ultimately we all need to work together or none of us will survive.

  • Chucksars

    It is misleading to say that the political system is biased against green laws, when your article is making the argument that rural communities are biased against green laws. Perhaps the problem is that legislators from the less populous states have not been working toward green reform that includes their constituents as stakeholders, and instead have been holding up a process that they are fearful of.

    Of course urban areas need rural areas to survive, but the opposite is true as well. Ultimately we all need to work together or none of us will survive.

  • Meghan

    Then all of those rural voters won’t send you food and energy to fuel your home, body, and vehicles. When the US was established, the urban states realized they needed the rural states to survive. That is why the house is set up by population and the senate is set up by state. If all of the rural states seceded then the US would be in rough shape.

    Environmental regulations impact rural states in a much bigger way than urban ones.

  • Meghan

    Then all of those rural voters won’t send you food and energy to fuel your home, body, and vehicles. When the US was established, the urban states realized they needed the rural states to survive. That is why the house is set up by population and the senate is set up by state. If all of the rural states seceded then the US would be in rough shape.

    Environmental regulations impact rural states in a much bigger way than urban ones.

  • Captain Obvious

    Yeah, if only there was some alternative to the Senate. What we really need is some kind of structure where the number of representatives depends on the population. We could then use this House of Representatives as some kind of check on the Senate. In fact, that would give us two competing forums, one with equal representation for every state and one where the states were weighted by population. If only our founding fathers had come up with such an enlightened way of balancing things. Oh…wait…they did.

    Considering laws need to pass the House as well and the house is basically what what is being proposed, I can only assume that people are generally ignorant of the construction of the US system of government. Their opinions on the changes “necessary” to that system are therefore rendered completely invalid.

  • Captain Obvious

    Yeah, if only there was some alternative to the Senate. What we really need is some kind of structure where the number of representatives depends on the population. We could then use this House of Representatives as some kind of check on the Senate. In fact, that would give us two competing forums, one with equal representation for every state and one where the states were weighted by population. If only our founding fathers had come up with such an enlightened way of balancing things. Oh…wait…they did.

    Considering laws need to pass the House as well and the house is basically what what is being proposed, I can only assume that people are generally ignorant of the construction of the US system of government. Their opinions on the changes “necessary” to that system are therefore rendered completely invalid.

  • Roger L

    Zachery: You seem to believe that just because a state has more people that its ideas are better for society as a whole. The founding fathers established representative government to protect the states that do not have as many people so that the rich states (as existed in colonial times and today) would not overwhelm the others with ideas and policies that did not recognize societal differences based on location and culture. The low population states are affected very much by environmental policies and these areas (which are typically in what some call the fly over zone)already view the coasts (left and right) as having undue influence on their lives. To cede even more influence to both coasts would further divide the people in the fly over zone who are already up in arms over the undue influence already in place. Don’t look at the Wyoming’s of the world standing in the way of environmental policy look at them as different stakeholders that need their views recognized and reflected in any policy decisions. Other countries especially European ones are not as large nor as diverse in the spread of population nor resources nor differences as the USA. Our uniqueness has to be factored into the decisions made. Or we could just acquiece as some would like to a Socialist totalitarian government (like China) who can make decisions from the elite top (after all does not the elite know better than us mear peons) for all with little if no objection. Then again maybe that’s what you would like it.

  • Roger L

    Zachery: You seem to believe that just because a state has more people that its ideas are better for society as a whole. The founding fathers established representative government to protect the states that do not have as many people so that the rich states (as existed in colonial times and today) would not overwhelm the others with ideas and policies that did not recognize societal differences based on location and culture. The low population states are affected very much by environmental policies and these areas (which are typically in what some call the fly over zone)already view the coasts (left and right) as having undue influence on their lives. To cede even more influence to both coasts would further divide the people in the fly over zone who are already up in arms over the undue influence already in place. Don’t look at the Wyoming’s of the world standing in the way of environmental policy look at them as different stakeholders that need their views recognized and reflected in any policy decisions. Other countries especially European ones are not as large nor as diverse in the spread of population nor resources nor differences as the USA. Our uniqueness has to be factored into the decisions made. Or we could just acquiece as some would like to a Socialist totalitarian government (like China) who can make decisions from the elite top (after all does not the elite know better than us mear peons) for all with little if no objection. Then again maybe that’s what you would like it.

  • The Trutherizer

    So they should use he number of seats a state holds as the measure of how much the state representative’s vote is worth. There’s no point in using that metric in presidential elections if it’s not going to have an effect on actual decision making. I would even say that it is not democratic. A Wyoming vote cannot be worth 33 times more than a California vote when it comes down to the actual political business of the day. It’s imbalanced in the extreme if you ask me.

  • The Trutherizer

    So they should use he number of seats a state holds as the measure of how much the state representative’s vote is worth. There’s no point in using that metric in presidential elections if it’s not going to have an effect on actual decision making. I would even say that it is not democratic. A Wyoming vote cannot be worth 33 times more than a California vote when it comes down to the actual political business of the day. It’s imbalanced in the extreme if you ask me.

  • Stephen Crane

    No Zachary, it’s not political it’s just that we Americans especially those of us who love to live in the west don’t like people like you telling us how to live.

  • Stephen Crane

    No Zachary, it’s not political it’s just that we Americans especially those of us who love to live in the west don’t like people like you telling us how to live.

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