In the newest addition to the Studies in American Politics series from Princeton University Press, David Vogel in California Greenin’: How the Golden State Became an Environmental Leader (Princeton UP, 2018) asks how it is that California has had such success in protecting its environment and has become a world leader in making and implementing environmental policy and law.
Vogel sketches boldly on a large canvas:
This book describes what is in many respects a remarkable success story. It demonstrates how a state government has been able to overcome substantial obstacles and enact a wide range of regulations that have made measurable - though admittedly uneven – progress in protecting its environment and improving the quality of life of its residents. Although California has often seemed on the verge of ecological (as well as economic) catastrophe, it has proven remarkably resilient. The state’s ability to remain the most important source of environmental policy innovation in the United States over so many decades and across such a diverse range of policy areas is a significant accomplishment. It is worth understanding why and how this particular state came to play such an important leadership role in this area, as well as the broader policy implications of such leadership [p. 6].One of those implications, Vogel writes, is that the story of California’s ascendancy holds lessons for the world:
What happens in California…has a global impact. During the 1980s, the relative stringency of California’s vehicle emissions standards was an important reason why Germany chose to support the adoption of similar standards by the European Economic Community… More recently, according to…a Nobel Prize-winning scientist from Mexico, “the rest of the global economy is looking to California, as one of the world’s largest economies, to take the lead” in addressing the risks of global climate change. The state has come to play an increasingly active international role [p. 8, citations omitted].
When it comes to explaining how and why California has become such a successful and resilient law and policy leader Vogel focuses on three factors he considers to be interconnected in varying ways at different times in the state’s history, depending on the issues being addressed.
One is the political mobilization of California’s citizens, most especially in the late 1960s and 1970s. A second is the support for environmental policy initiatives provided at critical moments by least some important segments of an often divided business community. And a third is the growth over time of the state’s capacity to design and implement programs of resource management and environmental regulation, in some cases in state agencies recognized as world leaders in the work they do .
This is obviously a provocative thesis and it may well keep students of the history of California environmental law and policy busy for some time to come. But it also and immediately raises the question of why, if the story of California’s ascendancy, which on Vogel’s telling has its roots in the late nineteenth century, is so remarkable and potentially so influential, the story hasn’t been told before now.
The answer is that the story has been told, at least in part, twice before, although Vogel chooses not to engage seriously with either prior account .