Skip to main content

The Public, Interest Groups, and Congress: US Environmental Policy


There is a multitude of actors that have the ability to influence how US environmental policy is created, passed, and implemented. Policies generated by the interactions between actors solidify a perceived solution to a perceived problem. 3 groups can be compared and contrasted that will highlight the process of US environmental policy and its effects; the public, private interest groups, and congress. Between these groups exists the power of social opinion and commonality, the ability to influence laws and norms, and the power to transform opinion or interests into laws and norms. Understanding the roles, tactics, and goals of these groups is essential to creating solutions based on equality and progress rather than private interest. The primary goal of this piece is to perform a critical analysis of the selected groups in regard to the making of US environmental policy.

The public is the largest group with a stake in US environmental policy. Environmental damage has a more adverse effect on low-income citizens in a high-income nation, meaning that common citizens bear the brunt of the adversity and must provide for their own welfare if seeking direct progress (Steel et al., 2019, 4.E). Even though the US produces more greenhouse gasses than any of the single low-income countries, citizens in low-income countries are more affected by the pollution(Pearson et al., n.d., 12430-12431). This reveals two things about the American public in regards to US environmental policy. The first revelation is that the general public has essentially no power to implement environmental regulations, no valid resources to study the implications of corrupt environmental policy, and no inherent ability to understand the connection between the two. These are not insults or personal faults but rather a condition of the relationship between the public and a capitalist system. In fact, it can help to first analyze the connection between these 3 groups on a level other than environmental activism; capital and influence. The second realization is that Americans are relatively sheltered from the truth about climate change and even the physical effects compared to a low-income country. This hints that there is a psychological factor tied to individualism and economic development that prevents Americans from being impacted by pollution in a way that would demand immediate change.

Quick Poll

The lecture from last week mentioned the idea of convenience as a major preventative of American cooperation. Goals ultimately decide the roles and tactics of a group. Interest groups exist because individual citizens, movements, or weaponized belief systems aim to establish influence or develop capital that has been deemed non-essential to the progression of society. Influence groups circumvent public opinion and laws in order to drive economic competition.

The contrast between the role of the public and the role of interest groups is sizable. The public has available tactics, but they require significant numbers for achievement, whereas a single lobbyist can wield an even greater amount of influence than a city of people. The public has a similar detachment from the third group, Congress. While Congress and interest groups develop and maintain relationships and make compromises, the public doesn’t have that ability. Even though they must depend on Congress to progress environmental policy, their alienation from nature, labor, and other members of the public has rendered their demands innocuous. As previously mentioned, interest groups can ignore and sidestep demands to Congress from the public in order to achieve their own interests. Congress and private interest groups have a relationship that the public could only dream of (Levy & Patz, 2015, 310-320). What does that mean, objectively? What is the public lacking in comparison to the interest groups? Capital and influence.

Regardless of the objectivity of the actual congressional proceedings with private interest groups, the implication is clear. Those with money and power will get to make their argument in court even if the proposed legislation is clearly not for the benefit of the environment. An individual from the general public doesn’t even have the ability to physically be presented in front of congress without government connections or a traumatic experience to discuss on camera. A direct modern example to be scrutinized is the difference in support for the bill regarding national defense spending compared to the blockages that continue to arise with bills aimed at environmental and social support for the public (American Institute of Physics, 2021).

In review, the public, private interest groups, and congress are 3 groups whose actions influence US environmental policymaking, although on vastly different levels. The public does have the ability to demand more progressive US environmental policy but they don’t have the ability to enforce those demands without significant numbers and coordination. Obstacles to that goal include capitalism, alienation, and private interests. In order to properly include the public in the making of environmental policy, other factors leading to disassociation with the environment would have to be addressed, such as living paycheck-to-paycheck. Preventing interest groups and congress from benefiting from the lack of public participation would be the first step in finding a balancing solution. This presents a particularly complex challenge as these 2 groups are almost self-circulating when it comes to authority and their range of abilities.

After contrasting and comparing the 3 groups, it’s safe to say that the public has the least influence on environmental policy while private interest groups and congress have similar benefits from preventing the rapid progression of environmental policy. The goal of the US public is usually to seem like they care due to moral implications and to survive. The tactics they use to achieve that goal include socially signifying environmental support and spending money to signify that they support environmental progress. There aren’t a lot of roles for the public under the US capitalist system. Congress and private interest groups’ goals are to increase wealth and influence while balancing the mood of the public interest. The tactics they use to achieve this are collaboration, restructuring of laws, and capitalist propaganda. The individual role of Congress in environmental policy would be debating and passing laws that further environmental development for the public while entertaining some pertinent interests that could be tied in. Private interest groups generally negotiate benefits away from the public in exchange for money, influence, and more. It has become clear that private interest groups and Congress are playing on a separate team with separate motives from the public.

Scroll to Continue


American Institute of Physics. (2021, December 15). Congress Passes National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022. American Institute of Physics. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from

Levy, B. S., & Patz, J. A. (2015). Climate Change, Human Rights, and Social Justice. Annals of Global Health, 81(3), 310-320.

Pearson, A. R., Schuldt, J. P., Romero-Canyas, R., Ballew, M. T., & Larson-Konar, D. (n.d.). Diverse segments of the US public underestimate the environmental concerns of minority and low-income Americans. PNAS, 115(49), 12429-12434.

S.1605 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2022, from

Steel, B. S., Simon, C. A., & Lovrich, N. P. (2019). State and Local Government and Politics: Prospects for Sustainability. Oregon State Open Educational Resources.

Text - H.R.2021 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): Environmental Justice For All Act. (2022, February). Retrieved April 16, 2022, from

© 2022 Albert Hoffman

Related Articles