Comparative Environmental Regulation in the United States and Russia: Institutions, Flexible Instruments, and Governance – By Lada V. Kochtcheeva; Environmental Justice and Sustainability in the Former Soviet Union – Edited by Julian Agyeman and Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger
Article first published online: 9 NOV 2011
© 2011 by The Policy Studies Organization
Review of Policy Research
Volume 28, Issue 6, pages 635–638, November 2011
How to Cite
Weinthal, E. (2011), Comparative Environmental Regulation in the United States and Russia: Institutions, Flexible Instruments, and Governance – By Lada V. Kochtcheeva; Environmental Justice and Sustainability in the Former Soviet Union – Edited by Julian Agyeman and Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger. Review of Policy Research, 28: 635–638. doi: 10.1111/j.1541-1338.2011.00530.x
- Issue published online: 9 NOV 2011
- Article first published online: 9 NOV 2011
Comparative Environmental Regulation in the United States and Russia: Institutions, Flexible Instruments, and Governance . Albany, NY : State University of New York Press . 230 pages. ISBN 9780791476925 , $24.95 paperback . . 2009 .
Environmental Justice and Sustainability in the Former Soviet Union . Cambridge, MA : MIT Press . 296 pages. ISBN 9780262512336 , $25.00 paperback . Julian Agyeman and Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger ( Eds. ). 2009 .
Two decades ago, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall followed by the Soviet Union's collapse transfixed the world community. These historic transformations ushered in a new era in which the main political and economic alternative to capitalist liberal democracies (i.e., state socialism) disappeared overnight. Up until then, the majority of research on the Soviet political and economic system was relegated to the stand-alone field of Soviet Studies. Owing to the Soviet Union's particular and distinctive political and economic system, scholarly work on environmental management shared the same fate and was rarely carried out in comparative perspective. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, scholars of the region have eagerly embraced a comparative and global perspective. Studies of political transitions, for instance, have situated the Soviet successor states' experiences within the broader literature on democratization (see e.g., Bunce, 2003). Similarly, research on the post-Soviet environment has examined the nature of transnational influences and financial flows on environmental protection in the successor states (see e.g., Darst, 2001; Weinthal, 2002).
Grouping the two books under review here solely based upon a common regional affiliation is thus reminiscent of earlier days in which the region's political economy served as the primary starting point for analysis. Yet as it turns out, these two books emphasize divergence rather than convergence in policy paths for countries that ostensibly inherited similar institutions for environmental management. Where once the Soviet environmental policy process could be described as largely top-down and insulated from international pressures, these two books indicate that there are multiple influences on policy responses ranging from institutional intransigence and bureaucratic autonomy to transnational alliances. The challenge for these authors and their contributors has been to discern which factors matter most for political leaders and domestic activists to confront their environmental legacies bequeathed to them from the Soviet era, which include nuclear and industrial contamination and water and air pollution along with tackling new global environmental challenges such as climate change and biodiversity protection.
Comparative Environmental Regulation in the United States and Russia undertakes what would have been considered an improbable comparison of environmental policy instruments 20 years ago. During the Soviet period, the state was deemed the sole owner and protector of natural resources, whereas in the United States, multiple forms of ownership of natural resources, including both private and state, were commonplace. Having carried out a well-documented and detailed analysis of the environmental political process both in the United States and in Russia, Lada Kochtcheeva has produced a groundbreaking comparative piece of scholarship on the role of institutions and actors in the design and adoption of flexible incentive-based instruments for environmental protection.
Through the lens of a historical institutionalist framework, Kochtcheeva traces the introduction of air and water quality policies over four decades. She finds that preexisting institutions both constrain and structure new policy choices for flexible instruments such as incentive-based programs, tradable permits, and pollution charges. Similar to others who have examined policy transitions away from state socialism and found that history matters (e.g., see Stark, 1992), Kochtcheeva discovers that the choice of policy instruments in Russia is very much dependent upon “continuity with the legal and regulatory traditions, the nature of environmental policy authority, the types of established regulations, and the capacity of government to ensure compliance with pollution control policies” (p. 1).
What is striking is the level of similarities in environmental policy making in the United States and in Russia. Initially, both countries emphasized command and control approaches (e.g., direct regulation, standards, deadlines, and penalties), and later, both sought to introduce more cost-effective market-based tools in the air and water sectors. Ultimately, the United States was more successful at establishing and sustaining these flexible policy instruments because it possessed a “comprehensive, independent, and centralized agency” (p. 10).
In contrast to the strong role of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Russia's attempts to introduce such market-based policy instruments were constrained by the institutional legacy inherited from the Soviet Union owing to the absence of a single independent environmental agency compounded by the “fragmentation of administrative responsibilities and the constant bureaucratic reorganization” (p. 11). This constant restructuring is most evident in the discussion of the frequent changes to the agency charged with environmental protection: In 1988, the State Committee for Environmental Protection (Goskompriroda) was created; then in 1994, its status was elevated to a Ministry of Environmental Protection (Minpriroda), and then by 1996 demoted to the State Committee on Environment (Goskomekologiia), and ultimately abolished as an agency in 2000 when its functions were incorporated into the Ministry of Natural Resources.
In short, Comparative Environmental Regulation sheds light on the policy continuity inherited from the Soviet Union. Yet because its focus is on state institutions and governance, it is less informative about the growing impact of domestic activists and international influences on environmental policy making following the Soviet Union's collapse. This, then, is where the second book under review comes into play.
Environmental Justice and Sustainability in the Former Soviet Union is simply about societal actors and activism. The editors, Julian Agyeman and Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger, are interested in evaluating activists' agendas according to whether they align with environmental justice or “brown” issues (i.e., antipollution, antipoverty, promoting affordable housing, and clean drinking water) or environmentally sustainable development or “green” issues (i.e., reductions in greenhouse gases and waste and biodiversity).
To answer whether activists' agendas map along these divisions or have merged into a single “just sustainability” or “human security” agenda, the editors have assembled a collection of essays from a large number of disciplines, including political science, human ecology, geography, urban planning, and anthropology. The case material covers the Baltic countries, Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Environmental Justice calls into question the notion that the past constrains future policy choices. Rather, it demonstrates that societies—even within closed political systems—can find ways to engage in struggle and protest for justice. Thus, while the editors conclude that few organizations have managed to merge a green and brown agenda into a “middle-way just sustainability/human security approach,” (p. 9) they do find “the emergence of at least a justice-informed environmental discourse in the former Soviet Union, if not a full-fledged environmental justice or a just sustainability/human security agenda” (p. 9).
Several of the chapters examine the profound gap that exists between environmental laws and regulations on paper and in practice. Donohoe's chapter, in particular, on Russia's laws regarding environmental protection and indigenous peoples' rights shows that it is not sufficient to just have what are seemingly progressive laws on the books. He argues that the legal environment's instability compounded by unequal access to information and the neglect of people's procedural rights means that these laws are largely ineffective in protecting indigenous minorities' rights and providing political opportunities for social mobilization.
Given such legal constraints and policy makers' prioritization of natural resource exploitation over quality of life issues, many of the chapters skillfully highlight the ability of communities to nevertheless engage in struggles for social justice. In many cases, international factors, including international institutions and conventions, play a large role in influencing the form and scope of activism. Kate Watter's chapter on community justice in Kazakhstan points to the role of the 1998 Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision Making, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. Precisely because Kazakhstan ratified the Aarhus Convention, Watters argues that community activists in Berezovka, Kazakhstan were able to exert pressure on Karachaganak Petroleum Operating for failing to include the public in the decision-making process regarding activities at the Karachaganak field.
Graybill's chapter on sustainability in Sakhalin, Russia and O'Lear's chapter on oil wealth and the environment in Azerbaijan also elucidate the ways in which transnational forces, including multinational-led hydrocarbon developments in the Sea of Okhotsk and Caspian Sea, respectively, influence socioeconomic and environmental change. While both the Russian and Azerbaijani governments have pushed for the energy sector to be the engine of economic growth, these chapters find that its benefits have not been equally distributed and instead have contributed to human insecurity. Yet according to O'Lear, the perception of environmental problems alone has not spearheaded activism geared toward environmental justice.
Overall, the major strength of the book is its empirics and case material that draws upon exemplary fieldwork, including extensive surveys and interviews. Yet despite the rich case material, the chapters fail to engage in a dialogue with one another because the chapters do not adhere to a consistent definition of justice or sustainability. For example, O'Lear examines “environmental injustice as reflected in a systemic, uneven distribution of the benefits and costs of natural resources, and as perceived by the people affected” (p. 98). In her discussion of diamond mining in the Sakha Republic, Susan Crates merges human rights and justice. Dominic Stucker examines environmental justice in Tajikistan within the political economy of poverty.
The many definitions of justice and sustainability, however, is not just a problem for the authors but also for the political actors seeking to introduce policies to improve societal well-being and better management of the natural resource sector. For example, Laura Henry found that President Putin interchangeably uses sustainable development and economic development in his speeches. Furthermore, Graybill found that not only different perceptions of sustainability exist among the local populations, multinational corporations, and government leaders in Russia, but also that different actors can galvanize certain definitions for political expediency. Indeed, because the Russian government could adopt the terminology of environmental injustice, it was able to easily wrest control of a majority interest in Sakhalin-2 for its state-owned gas company—Gazprom.
In sum, despite my initial reluctance to group these two books together solely because of their focus on the Soviet successor states, reading them in tandem provides a richer understanding of the diverse developments in environmental policy and politics in the two decades after the Soviet Union's collapse in which both institutions and actors matter while also allowing us to view these processes in comparative perspective.
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