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Environmental Policy Under the Clinton Administration


The Clinton Administration, led by then-president William J. Clinton and then-vice president Albert Gore, created policies designed to protect the environment while incorporating an efficient commerce.

These policies were designed to balance personal and economic liberty and the promotion environmental justice. Overall, the Clinton administration changed the direction of environmental policy by expanding regulations and creating momentum for new initiatives.

Balancing Environmental and Economic Interests

The Clinton-Gore administration was committed to demonstrating that the United States could have a robust economy while supporting a clean environment. The administration created a cost-effective approach to new technologies, while implementing stronger protections for national resources and public lands.

Forbes recently reported that many of these pro-technology positions have helped create the robust internet policies we have today.

Political leaders in the Clinton-Gore Administration believed that environmental protection and economic growth were compatible. In order to prove this to an increasingly bipartisan government, the administration pushed energy strategies that lead to greater energy efficiency and renewable energy production.

This created more jobs – about 130,000 new positions in the environmental industry alone – and lowered national imports.

All in all, the Clinton Administration set an example by taking federal action to require federal agencies and the White House to adopt more environmentally friendly practices.

This included using recycled paper, conserving energy and water in federal buildings, and cleaning up pollution. However, they had to fight hard against an unfriendly federal Congress to make each of these achievements a reality.

Battling Bipartisanship

The Clinton Administration stood tough against the Republican dominated Congress to ensure that environmental laws and regulations were not rolled back or eliminated. During the administration’s time in office, it consistently faced threats of oil drilling in the Arctic National and Wildlife Refuge.

In addition to creation of a radioactive waste dump in the Mojave Desert, selling of national forest lands, the elimination of tax incentives for renewable energy, and even a threatened reversal of the Endangered Species Act.

The administration met these threats with initiatives like increasing national environmental targets and creating more stringent policies to reach the targets.

Some of the administration’s greatest achievements included signing the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement committing parties to set binding air pollution emission reduction targets.

However, the Clinton Administration did much more than that. Despite backlash in Congress, the administration was also able create the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, which advised the president on sustainable development and came up with new approaches to accomplish the administration’s economic, environmental, and equity goals.

Lasting Impacts of Environmental Policies Created Under President Clinton

The Clinton Administration’s foresight to put natural resources, lands and oceans, and historical sites under greater protection and to strengthen clean air standards has proven to be fundamentally sound policy in the decades that have passed since.

Regulatory agencies under President Clinton were able to do a great deal to preserve natural resources and prohibit logging and other activities threatening the unique ecological value of national forests. For example, the National Forest Service was instructed to develop regulations for long-term protection of 40 million acres of “roadless” areas.

Around the same time, the administration established the Black Canyon National Park in Colorado and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.

They also protected the greater Yellowstone ecosystem from mining, started the funding for the removal of the dam on Elwha River near Olympic National Park, and signed the California Desert  Protection Act designating about 7.7 million acres of federal lands as wilderness in perpetual conservation.

The Administration also took action to address environmental justice, ensuring that low-income citizens do not suffer the unfair burden of industrial pollution.

Clinton administration politically acknowledged that low-income communities and communities of minorities often faced the burden of such environmental pollution and suffered significant health effects.

This inspired Clinton put forward Executive Order (EO) 12898 titled Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. It required that agencies to prioritize environmental justice by evaluating their own programs and policies and to identify harming health effects.

Notably, however, President Clinton did not do all of this without help. Carol Browner, an environmentalist, served as Administer of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clinton Administration.

With an increased budget and greater degrees of autonomy, the Clinton EPA had more autonomy to reduce the role of economic analysis in decision-making. In fact, in 1999, the EPA announced a new rule that favored the public’s right to know about toxic chemicals released into the environment.

The rule strengthened the requirements for reporting for the most persistent accumulative toxins, which build up in the environment rather than break down.

Overall, environmental quality improved over the eight years of the Clinton Administration. Despite ongoing controversy over our nation’s environmental policies, these initiatives have been the foundation for environmental and energy achievements over the past twenty years.

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