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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato


Page address: Syllabi/PS461SYL.html

Political Science 461/561
Environmental Politics
Fall 2006
MWF 9:00-9:50
AH 215

Instructor: Dr. Fred Slocum
Office: 204A Morris Hall
Phone: 389-6935
Web site:
Office Hours: M, W, F 1:00-3:00; T, Th 11:00-12:00 and 2:00-3:00; or by appointment


This course examines politics and policymaking on issues related to the natural environment, and how best to protect and preserve it.  In industrial and post-industrial societies, individuals and firms make innumerable decisions that affect the environment.  Where is the best location for a nuclear power plant?  How many and what types of trees should be open for logging?  Should a homeowner use herbicide to control weeds?  A major theme of this course, however, is that governments also make (or put off making) decisions that affect the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink, and how and where we dispose of solid waste, hazardous chemicals and radioactive wastes.  Much of this course, then, will center on government institutions, processes and decisions, and how all these influence environmental policy.

Although we'll focus our attention on environmental politics in the United States, we will include some cross-national and global perspectives as well.  We'll consider the policy-making process in the United States, and examine some important value disputes that underlie environmental policies.  Next, we'll examine the environment in American politics, especially public opinion on environmental issues, the partisan dimension of environmental policy, and the roles of the president, Congress and the courts in making and implementing environmental policy.  During roughly the last third of the course, we'll examine selected areas of environmental policy: air pollution, energy use and the environment, and global climate change.  In this last section of the course especially, two themes stand out prominently.  First, environmental problems, and the solutions devised to address them, are global in nature.  Second, environmental problems are best addressed using an interdisciplinary approach.

We will encounter many ideas this semester, some of them quite controversial.  Politicians, activists (environmental and opposition) and many others argue vigorously over these ideas.  I hope you will, too.  My goal is to encourage frequent participation from members of the class.  Class participation is a component of your grade, and graduate students will be expected to assume more of a leadership role in class discussions.  Come to class having completed reading assignments in advance, and prepared to offer opinions, questions and observations anytime.  I will try to maintain an atmosphere in which students of all political persuasions will feel equally free to express their opinions during class discussions.

Course Objectives:

To the extent they do well in this course, students should gain knowledge and understanding of:

  • Conflicting values that underlie differences in opinion on environmental policy, especially the clashes between science and technology and humanism, between economic efficiency and humanism, and over the proper role of government in society
  • Factors that complicate environmental policy decisions, such as cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment
  • Government strategies for protecting the environment: command and control regulations and market-based incentives
  • The content and nature of American public opinion on environmental issues
  • The roles of the president, Congress and the courts in enacting and implementing environmental policy
  • Interest groups and international organizations that influence environmental policy
  • The disproportionate impacts of some environmental decisions on the less affluent and people of color
  • The nature of specific threats to environmental quality, in the areas of air pollution, water pollution, hazardous waste disposal, global climate change and other issues as chosen by members of the class
  • How governments have addressed, or failed to address, these problems
  • How environmental policy alternatives invoke the values clashes mentioned earlier
  • The global and interdisciplinary nature of environmental problems and strategies for addressing them

I also hope this course will cultivate an appreciation of the complexities involved in enacting and implementing environmental policy.  To give just one example: many American communities (including Mankato) have programs for recycling plastics, newspapers and other solid wastes.  However, the market for green glass and some plastics is quite limited in places, meaning that these materials must travel across state lines (or even overseas) for processing.  Not only does this entail extra transportation costs, it also requires greater use of fossil fuels.  In some cases, furthermore, recycling is a more expensive option than incinerating wastes or depositing them in a landfill.  Of course, landfills are problematic in some areas, and incineration produces emissions that are often toxic and carcinogenic.  The major lesson here is that decisions in one area of environmental policy often have 'ripple effects' for other areas of environmental policy, economic impacts and/or unintended consequences.  We will not always reach definitive answers to the often-difficult questions posed, but we will try to post and consider questions that invoke them.  A major theme in the course is that disagreements over core values influence the questions we ask, and the answers we reach.

I also hope this course will improve certain skills that will benefit your careers or further education.  These skills include especially those of communication (oral and written) and critical thinking that are valued increasingly in the global economy.  To this end, there will be some in-class written reflection exercises, short paper assignments with accompanying in-class presentations, and considerable discussion of topics raised in or related to the readings.  Also, there are several videos planned.

Assignments and Grading:

There will be a midterm examination (October 20) and a final examination (December 11).  Both will consist of essays and identifications.  The final will be non-cumulative, covering only material from the second half of the course.

The paper requirements differ for undergraduate and graduate students.  Undergraduate students will have a choice of two out of three short paper assignments.  Coupled with these are in-class student presentations of these papers.  Graduate students will have a choice of one of two short paper assignments, also with presentations, and in addition they will complete a medium-length book review (also presented in class) and a longer annotated bibliography.  The latter is a critical synthesis of articles from scholarly journals (totaling 250 pages or more) on a topic relevant to environmental politics or policy-making.  The topic must be cleared with the instructor.  Bibliography topic statements (in writing) are due in class Wednesday, October 4, and bibliographies are due in class Monday, December 4.  I will hand out more information separately about paper options for all students, and the book review and bibliography for graduate students.

The grading procedure is below.  Note the different weights for graduate versus undergraduate students.

Undergraduate students:

  • First paper: 20%
  • Second paper: 20%
  • Midterm exam: 25%
  • Class participation: 10%
  • Final exam: 25%

Graduate students:

  • Short paper: 10%
  • Book review: 15%
  • Midterm exam: 20%
  • Class participation: 10%
  • Bibliography: 25%
  • Final exam: 20%

Graduate students will be held to higher standards for participation in class.  Grades in this course will not be curved, meaning that you will not be competing against your classmates for a limited number of A's, B's and so on.  Therefore, the grading scale is a straight scale, as follows:

  • A: 90% or more
  • B: 80%-89.9%
  • C: 70%-79.9%
  • D: 60%-69.9%
  • F: 59.9% or less

Students whose point totals place them very near (within 0.1 point of) the cutoff point for the next higher letter grade will be evaluated on an individual basis for promotion to the higher grade.  Improvement across the term and consistent engagement (attendance and participation) in the course make promotion to the higher grade more likely.

Students with Disabilities:

I would like to hear (early in the semester is much preferred) from students with a documented learning or other disability that might require some modification of seating, testing, or other class arrangements.  I will make every effort to accommodate students with these needs.  If you have any questions, please see me or contact Julie Snow in the Disability Services Office (132 Memorial Library, 389-1819).

Policy on Attendance:

I will note attendance frequently.  All students should plan to attend class regularly and contribute to class discussions.  Students are responsible for obtaining notes for any missed session.  Excused absences may be considered on a case-by-case basis for valid reasons (such as for certain medical reasons), or for significant opportunities, such as attending a professional conference.  Whenever possible, please notify me in advance of an absence, giving a valid reason.

Policy on Late Assignments:

Barring extenuating circumstances (which I must be notified of and approve in advance), late papers will be downgraded one full letter grade (10 points) for each calendar day late (20 points over a weekend), and no papers will be accepted more than three days late, unless other arrangements are made with the instructor.  These must be for valid reasons, similar to, but more compelling than, those justifying a makeup exam.  Computer-related problems (i.e. printer malfunctions, hard drive or disk crashes) are not an acceptable reason for late papers or extensions.

Policy on Make-Up Examinations and Incomplete Grades:

Examinations cannot be made up unless the student provides acceptable, documented reason for missing the exam.  Makeup exam requests have merit to the extent that (1) the circumstance is unavoidable, (2) the reason for missing the exam can be documented, and (3) the instructor is notified well in advance of the exam.  Makeup exams will not necessarily be identical to, and may be more difficult than, the exam given in class.  Early exams will not be given.

The MSU Undergraduate Bulletin outlines University policy on incomplete grades as follows.  "The grade of 'incomplete' is reserved for special cases and means that, because of extenuating circumstances, the student failed to meet a specific need and an important requirement of the course, but has in other respects done passing work for the semester.  The incomplete must be made up in the next semester in which the student has enrolled, unless other arrangements have been made between the student and instructor.  If the deficiency is not made up within the specified time, the grade automatically becomes an F or NC" (pp. 31-32).  I will support and enforce this policy fully.

Academic Dishonesty:

A number of activities may be construed as academic dishonesty (cheating).  These include, but are not limited to: copying material from another source (book, manuscript or another student) without proper acknowledgment, using crib sheets during an exam, talking during an exam, or looking at another student's exam.  Any cheating will result in an automatic F in the course and possible further disciplinary action.  In papers, if you either quote a source or paraphrase (express an idea drawn from another source in your own words), you must acknowledge your use of that source in an approved citation form (i.e. APA, MLA, Chicago citation style).  Come see me if you have any questions.


There are two required texts for this class; both are available at the CSU/Barnes & Noble Bookstore and the Maverick Bookstore.  Although we will not read all of each book, we will read substantial portions of each.

  • Norman J. Vig and Michael E. Kraft (eds.), Environmental Policy: New Directions for the 21st Century, 6th edition.  Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2006.
  • Judith A. Layzer, The Environmental Case: Translating Values into Policy, 2nd edition.  Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2006.
  • Recommended reading: The Washington Post (available at

From time to time, there may be supplemental readings, outside the two main course texts.  These will be announced in class, and will be handed out in class or placed on reserve in Memorial Library.

Course Calendar and Assignments:

I will make reasonable efforts to follow the schedule of topics below.  I will announce any changes in class.  Abbreviations used below are V&K (Vig & Kraft); L (Layzer).

Part I: Introduction.

Week 1 - August 28-September 1: Introductions; environmental problems today and in historical context.  (Video: The Environmental Revolution) V&K, Ch. 1.

Part II: Contours of and Issue Conflicts in Environmental Politics.

(Monday, September 4: Holiday - NO CLASS)

Week 2 - September 6-8: Values conflicts in environmental politics; the political context for environmental policymaking.  V&K, CH. 4; L, Ch. 1.

Week 3 - September 11-15: Economics and the environment.  (Possible guest speaker: Dr. Lon Smith, professor emeritus, MSU Dept. of Economics)  V&K, Ch. 9; L, Ch. 6.

Week 4 - September 18-22: Race, class and environmental policy; the environmental justice movement.  (Video: Toxic Racism)  V&K, Ch. 11; L, Ch. 5.

Part III: Political Actors and Environmental Policy.

(Monday, September 25: First paper due)

Week 5 - September 25-29: Student presentations (on interest groups); environmental and environmental-opposition movements.  L, Ch. 13.

Week 6 - October 2-6: Public opinion; the role of the presidency.  V&K, Ch. 5.

(Wednesday, October 4: Bibliography topics (graduate students) due)

Week 7 - October 9-13: The role of Congress; graduate student presentations.  V&K, Ch. 6.

(Friday, October 13: Book reviews (graduate students) due)

Week 8 - October 16-18: The role of the courts.  V&K, Ch. 7.

(Friday, October 20: Midterm exam)

Part IV: Environmental Policy Issues and Cases.

Week 9 - October 23-25: Global climate change/global warming.  V&K, Ch. 13; L, Ch. 11.

(Friday, October 27: NO CLASS)

(Monday, October 30: Second paper due)

Week 10 - October 30-November 3: Student presentations (on environmental challenges in other nations); the environment, trade and global economics.  L, Ch. 12.

Week 11 - November 6-10: Sustainable development; air quality.  (Video: It Needs Political Decisions; possible guest speaker)  V&K, Ch. 17; L, Ch. 14.

Week 12 - November 13-17: Water quality; public lands disputes.  L, Chs. 2 and 7.

(Monday, November 20: Third short papers due)

Week 13 - November 20: Student presentations (on student-selected environmental issues).

(Wednesday and Friday, November 22 and 24: Holiday - NO CLASS)

Week 14 - November 27-December 1: Hazardous and nuclear waste.  L, Chs. 3 and 4.

(Monday, December 4: Bibliographies (graduate students) due)

Week 15 - December 4-8: Commons problems; environmental politics in the future.  L, Chs. 10 and 18.

(Monday, December 11, 8:00 AM: Final exam)