My research asks how public opinion, scientific information, and special interests filter through institutions to shape policymakers’ decisions, especially on climate change and the environment. Trained as a political institutionalist, I consider how legislative and administrative structures, rules, and policy processes shape the inputs decision-makers receive, and how they analyze, arbitrate, and respond to these inputs through policy planning, design, and implementation. I am particularly interested in how institutions shape the representation of interests in climate and environment policy, and frequently work on projects that investigate public and interest group preferences, perceptions, and behaviors in these issue areas. My empirical work has spanned forest management, extreme drought, harmful algal blooms, and renewable energy.
SELECTION OF RECENT PUBLICATIONS & WORKS IN PROGRESS
Struthers, C.L., and Ritzler, C. "Advocacy Strategies in State Preemption: The Case of Energy Fuels Bans." Forthcoming at Policy Studies Journal. Interest group literature suggests reformer advocacy groups, seeking policy change and innovation, are more likely to secure policy victory in local government. Entrenched advocacy groups, favoring current policies, are better suited to win policy battles at the state level. Consequently, entrenched groups have pushed state legislatures to limit local governments’ decision authorities through preemption across a wide range of public-interest issues including tobacco use, gun control, marriage rights, and climate change. Yet few studies have considered how competing advocacy groups strategically frame their agenda in preemption debates. We draw on ‘scope of conflict’ literature to show that opposing camps vary in their issue definition, relational strategies, and institutional frames. For example, while entrenched advocates address issues most relevant to the policy subsystem under debate, reformer advocates link issues together. Our study case is preemption legislation that prohibits local governments from banning energy fuels like natural gas in new buildings. We test hypotheses using computational text analysis and descriptive inference to analyze public testimony that 117 advocacy groups deliver at state committee hearings. Results raise important questions about the efficacy of conflict expansion strategies in state venues like committee systems, and provide considerations for reformer advocates in their efforts to secure state support and improve clean energy campaigns.
Struthers, C.L., Murenbeeld, K., and Williamson, M. 2023. “Environmental Impact Assessments Not the Main Barrier to Timely Forest Management in the US”. Forthcoming at Nature Sustainability. Environmental impact assessment (EIA) processes are commonly used by government agencies to evaluate the merits and environmental risks of natural resource management decisions. Citing EIA as red tape, decision-makers from across the political spectrum are increasingly circumventing EIA in order to expedite implementation of necessary actions for climate resilience and clean energy. Few studies have quantified the extent that EIA is the main barrier to efficient implementation. We combine administrative data from the US Forest Service (USFS) with survival analysis to show that for most actions the USFS takes as long or longer to award first contracts and roll out initial activities than to comply with the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and that the NEPA process accounts for approximately one-fifth of planned implementation time.
Struthers, C.L., Arnold, G., Scott, T., and Fleischman, F. 2021. "After the Vote: Climate Policy Decision-making in the Administrative State." Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2021.06.014 While the science-policy interface has been a major focus of recent climate policy research, the role of agency practices and bureaucratic behavior has been largely overlooked. With a focus on U.S. federal agencies and similar bureaucratic contexts, we review the literature on how administrative decision-making influences the acquisition and application of climate evidence, including information provided by both scientists and stakeholders. We show that administrative procedures (requirements for gathering and analyzing information), agency characteristics (such as mission and institutional design), and bureaucrat attributes (an individual’s expertise and values) shape agencies’ use of climate evidence. Given the key role of the administrative state in policymaking, our review calls for greater attention to public administration and its consequences for climate responsiveness.
Struthers, C.L., Scott, T., Fleischman, F., and Arnold, G., 2021. "The Forest Ranger (and the Legislator): How Local Congressional Politics Shape Policy Implementation in Agency Field Offices." Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. https://doi.org/10.1093/jopart/muab037 Research on political control over government bureaucracy has primarily focused on direct exercises of power such as appointments, funding, agency design, and procedural rules. In this analysis, we extend this literature to consider politicians who leverage their institutional standing to influence the decisions of local field officials over whom they have no explicit authority. Using the case of the US Forest Service (USFS), we investigate whether field-level decisions are associated with the political preferences of individual congressional representatives. Our sample encompasses 7,681 resource extraction actions initiated and analyzed by 107 USFS field offices between 2005 and 2018. Using hierarchical Bayesian regression, we show that under periods of economic growth and stability, field offices situated in the districts of congressional representatives who oppose environmental regulation initiate more extractive actions (timber harvest, oil and gas drilling, grazing) and conduct less rigorous environmental reviews than field offices in the districts of representatives who favor environmental regulation. By extending existing theories about interactions between politicians and bureaucrats to consider informal means of influence, this work speaks to (1) the role of local political interests in shaping agency-wide policy outcomes and (2) the importance of considering informal and implicit means of influence that operate in concert with explicit control mechanisms to shape bureaucratic behavior.
Shugart, M.S., Bergman, M., Struthers, C.L., Krauss, E., Pekkanen, R.J. 2021. Party personnel strategies: Electoral systems and parliamentary committee assignments. Oxford University Press. Key party goals serve to advance a policy brand and maximize seats in the legislature. This book offers a theory of how political parties assign their elected members—their" personnel"—to specialized legislative committees to serve collective organizational goals, here known as" party personnel strategies". Individual party members vary in their personal attributes, such as prior occupation, gender, and local experience. Parties seek to harness the attributes of their members by assigning them to committees where their expertise is relevant, and where they may enhance the party's policy brand. However, under some electoral systems, parties may need to trade-off the harnessing of expertise against the pursuit of seats, instead matching legislators according to electoral situation (eg marginality of seat) or characteristics of their constituency (eg population density). This book offers an analysis of the extent to which parties trade these goals by matching the attributes of their personnel and their electoral needs to the functions of the available committee seats. The analysis is based on a dataset of around six thousand legislators across thirty-eight elections in six established parliamentary democracies with diverse electoral systems.
Struthers, C.L. 2019. “The Political in the Technical: Understanding the Influence of National Political Institutions on Climate Adaptation”. Climate and Development. https://doi.org/10.1080/17565529.2019.1689905 A growing body of research shows that local and international institutions as well as party politics affect climate adaptation. Yet few studies have considered the role of political institutions at the national level. Comparative political institutional theory argues that a country's party system, executive-legislative arrangement, and electoral rules affect elected officials’ incentives and behaviour. This study utilizes this theory to explain how Chile's national elected officials responded to the country's extreme drought in 2010–2015. Results indicate that ideologically distinct alliances, a strong president, and legislators’ competing incentives to cater to different interests resulted in adaptive policy solutions that only partially addressed the shortcomings that drought exposed. The findings of this study show how politics can underlie technical decision-making on climate change, help to account for the continued inadequacies of Chilean water reform even in the face of new climate extremes, and demonstrate the utility of the comparative political institutional lens for explaining national strategies for climate adaptation. Applying this lens to other country cases and climatic events will advance knowledge on how differences in electoral incentives and policy processes systematically shape climate adaption policy.
Works in progress:
“Science politics: How Political Context Shapes Public Agencies’ Use of Science in Environmental Policymaking”,with Liza Wood, Tyler Scott, and Sojeong Kim.
“Problem Severity and Legislative Incentives to Deliver Targeted Benefits: Evidence from California’s Response to Megadrought”, with Matthew Shugart, Scott MacKenzie, Siddharth Kishore, Mehdi Nemati, Ariel Dinar.
"How adopters and co-adopters of climate solutions differ", with Marilyn A. Brown, Min-Kyeong Cha, Snehal Kale, and Oliver Chapman
"Why public participation in distributive decisions with focal benefits and diffuse costs differs from regulatory decisions with focal costs and diffuse benefits", with Gwen Arnold, Tyler Scott, and Forrest Fleischman
“Bloom and doom: Is increasing risk of harmful algal blooms an inevitable consequence of global change? Assessing risk and exploring strategies in Georgia from biological and social perspectives”. Presidential Interdisciplinary Seed Grant Program, UGA, with Michelle Ritchie, Alex Strauss, Pete Hazelton, and Krista Capps
“Private (on-farm), public, and political adaptation to climate-change-induced water scarcity: Evidence from California”. National Institute for Food & Agriculture, USDA, with Ariel Dinar, Scott Mackenzie, Mehdi Nemati, and Matthew Shugart