Analyzing the Debate Surrounding Clean Water Act Jurisdiction: A Use of the ACF for Decoding American Environmental Policy Stalemates

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Adam Assink


Since the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972, waters in the United States have continually improved in quality. However, wetlands—and what constitutes a “navigable” waterway—have not been clearly deemed jurisdictional or not by the CWA. Recently two Supreme Court cases have brought to light these inconsistencies in the Act’s wording and sparked a congressional debate—and a resulting stalemate—surrounding the reach of the Clean Water Act. In this paper, I use the advocacy coalition framework to study arguments on either side of the debate to better understand why the stalemate has continued lasting in congress despite both sides acknowledging the harm caused by the stalemate. Through this analysis, I find that there are two distinct sides to this debate, with both sides sacrificing their progress in an attempt to bog down the opposition, an approach that I propose calling “win-and-loss policymaking”. Using these observations, I provide suggestions on how to clear stalemates that hurt the general population in an increasingly hyper-politicized world.