Analysis and Public Policy
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Analysis and Public Policy

Successes, Failures and Directions for Reform

Stuart Shapiro

How do we incorporate analytical thinking into public policy decisions? Stuart Shapiro confronts this issue in Analysis and Public Policy by looking at various types of analysis, and discussing how they are used in regulatory policy-making in the US. By looking at the successes and failures of incorporating cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment, and environmental impact assessment, he draws broader lessons on its use, focusing on the interactions between analysis and political factors, legal structures and bureaucratic organizations as possible areas for reform.
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Chapter 5: Environmental impact assessment

Stuart Shapiro


On the surface, environmental impact assessment seems narrower than comprehensive-rational assessment. After all, one is just looking at the environment. However, it was created right when faith in the ability to thoroughly analyze the consequences of a government action was at its peak. And its proponents thought of it as, well, comprehensive, “the environment is made up of both biophysical and socioeconomic elements which should be considered in environmental impact analysis” (Jain et al. 1981, p._3) and, “The philosophy and principles of EIA can be traced back to a rationalist approach to decision-making that emerged in the 1960s” (Jay et al. 2007). Its chief legislative backer, Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson was a significant proponent of rational decision-making (Lazarus 2011). In some ways, it is also much broader than the other forms of comprehensive-rational analysis. Whereas cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment have played their largest roles in regulatory policy, environmental impact assessment (EIA) involves any project that the government funds in addition to regulatory issues. As a result, a far wider range of agencies must undertake environmental impact analysis than the other forms of comprehensive-rational analysis covered in this book. Agencies must do an environmental analysis for projects as diverse as new railroad lines, changes in national parks, and the approval of the Keystone Pipeline. Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in January of 1970.

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