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Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism and Working for Environmental Justice

Changing The US Environmental Foreign Policy

Background/ History

For much of United States history, Environmental Policy was unheard of. When Roosevelt was President in the 1930s, he put many New Deal Programs into place, one of which included conservation programs to help restore forests and rebuild places that had experienced economic and ecological collapse. However, it wasn’t until 1962, when Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was written, a book that explained the negative side effects of pesticide and DDT use, that the general United States population had any concern about the environment. Then, in the 1970s, the United States started controlling pollution under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Also in the 1970s, known as the “environmental era,” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created. Although the US was one of the first nations to address environmental issues, unlike in many other areas such as economics and technology, the country has failed to lead the rest of the world in environmental policy. In fact, European countries are far ahead of the US in many aspects of environmental law.

Part of the reason that they United States’ foreign policy on environmental damage is lagging behind Europe’s is because the US lawmakers take too long to sign onto international treaties. For example, on Earth Day in 2001, President Bush stated that he would sign the Stockholm POP treaty, which regulates chemicals that are dangerous to human health and/or the environment, but to this day Congress has not given their consent. This treaty was approved by many different groups such as Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), chemical industries, and multiple countries; still, even though this treaty has been accepted by most groups and regulates chemicals that have already been proven extremely dangerous, the United States has resisted giving approval. According to Kristin Schafer, the United States has not only missed an important leadership opportunity, but they are “undermining the effectiveness of these important treaties while the rest of the world moves ahead on implementation.” In fact, according to the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education, the United States exported 1.7billion pounds of pesticides alone during 2001 and 2003. Many of these chemicals had already been banned in the United Sates, so the US sent them to developing countries that lack the capacity to regulate such toxic chemicals.

Lastly, the main difference between European Nations and the United States is that the US runs under the TSCA Program, and the EU runs under the REACH program. The TSCA program requires the EPA to report, keep records of, and test chemicals. These chemicals are allowed to enter the industries and market places and are only regulated once proven harmful. Also, chemicals used before the TSCA program went into effect are grandfathered into the program, even if they are harmful. The EU, on the other hand, functions under the precautionary principle. REACH requires industry to test products and prove that they are safe before they are used. The program aims to improve the protection of human health and the environment through better and earlier identification of harmful chemicals.


Though there are many differing opinions on Environmental Foreign Policy, it is important to take both the external and internal costs into consideration. On one side of the debate, industries make much of their money by using chemicals that environmentalists say should be monitored. However if they aren’t releasing these chemicals into the United States, the chemicals are often dumped into Third World Countries, causing many negative impacts there. On the other hand, as many environmentalists state, when the U.S. contributes to worldwide pollution, tension between countries is only worsened.

It has been successful for other countries, such as Europe, to strengthen environmental regions in the past, and it is very reasonable for the United States to do this as well. One way to do this is to simply join the European Nation and use their policy, as well as to sign treaties that the majorities of the nations have signed, instead of working against the other nations. Second, the United States should strive to pursue environmental equality. This would mean not only keeping the United States clean, but requiring U.S. industries to practice the same regulations in other countries as well. This would help to stabilize relationships between nations and enable nations to cooperate on key issues.


Over the last eighty years, Environmental Policy in the United States has begun to grow through the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and through various acts created to control pollution in the U.S. Although environmental improvements have been made, the foreign policy on environmental damage in the U.S. is still lagging behind Europe and other nations. By joining the European Nation and using their REACH policy, as well as signing treaties, maintaining environmental equality, and placing stronger regulations on U.S. industries, the U.S. will build stronger relationships with other nations. This will also keep the U.S. clean and regulate the amount of pollution.



20 votes
Idea No. 36