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Environmental Research Skills: SKL-031417: Non-Legal Sources: Policy Information

Law and Policy

Much of law school focuses on primary sources - case law, statutes, regulations - but these sources may only be a part of what you need to research, either in school or while practicing. This is particularly true for areas involving administrative law, where you will need to be familiar with primary sources plus administrative procedure, interpretive rules, and the policy-making process for starters. This is especially true for an area like environmental law, where policies are steeped in science. Administrative procedure is beyond the scope of this guide, but there are resources and classes concerned with it. For more information on interpretive rules, see the Regulations and Interpretive Rules page. 

Keep in mind that administrative agencies use the term "policy" in all of its potential definitions. There are policies that affect the operation of day to day business such as a personnel policy - this we won't discuss. There are policies that discuss how the agency views a regulation - what the agency thinks employees and those affected should do in order to comply with regulations. For agency policies that fit this definition, see the Regulations and Interpretive Rules page.

Then there are public policies that reflect the direction of the agency and problem-solving approaches. This definition is what we will discuss here. Making public policy is part of the law-making process conducted by governmental agencies and interested parties. Laws reflect and are a statement of governmental policy. Understanding public policy can be crucial in administrative law because implementation and enforcement of laws and regulations is done by administrative agencies. Lawyers may work to create or implement policies within government agencies. Under judicial review of agency actions, lawyers may also have to argue whether a regulation sufficiently reflects its underlying policy as created by Congress. (For more on this aspect, consult an administrative law resource.)

Here are a few definitions for context. 

  • "Policy making: It is difficult to distinguish policy from politics: in fact, the French word politique can be translated as either. Policy formation is the core of the political process . . . Policy making can cover all that goes on in relation to one issue or set of issues before reaching the desks of the legislative draftmen. . . .At the early stage of policy making objectives may be stated in a very general way. To provide the details needed for a legislative proposal much will depend on the specialized knowledge required. The expertise might be highly technical, as with financial policy, or it might be that of practitioners, as with legislation about safety regulations in deep mines." (Bealey, p. 246, 1999)
  • "Policy Process: . . . The policy process is immensely complex, involving major and minor agencies of government, pressure groups, clientele groups, members of Congress, and countless bureaucrats. In general, the policy process involves (1) perceiving and defining a problem; (2) placing the problem on the government agenda; (3) aggregating interests involved in the problem; (4) maintaining contacts with those involved; (5) formulating alternative solutions; (6) legitimizing a policy; (7) providing the necessary budget for implementing the policy; (8) implementing the policy; (9) evaluating the policy; and (10) deciding either to revise or to terminate the policy in view of its impact on relevant clientele. Other elements are involved in the policy process as well. In general, it is the process by which goals and priorities are actually translated into policy. Thus, we may speak of national security policy, foreign policy, tax policy, and so on." (Krusche, p. 29, 1987).
  • "Policy Statements: Formal expressions of government goals through legislative statutes, administrative rules and regulations, court opinions, and other articulations. Policy statements are the stated signs and intentions of government with methods of accomplishing established goals and priorities.
    • Significance: Policy statements are not always clear manifestations of government intentions. In many instances, the courts are requested to interpret the meaning or intent of a statute or rule. Policy statements are the formal and legitimate means of learning of government intentions. Policy statements are occasionally used as a means of glossing over issues without completely ignoring their significance. Many international leaders use policy statements to acknowledge a certain problem without really committing a government to action regarding that problem." (Krusche, p. 61-62, 1987). 
  • "Policy analysis: . . . Analysis concentrates on programmes, is often interdisciplinary and takes a comparative approach, either between different countries of between different policy areas. The study of policy making has become a major interest of political scientists, especially those involved in the area of public adminstration." (Bealey, p. 245, 1999)

Frank Bealey & Allan G. Johnson, The Blackwell Dictionary of Political Science : A User's Guide to Its Terms (1999). [Online access for Loyola community members.]

Earl R. Kruschke & Byron M. Jackson, The Public Policy Dictionary (1987). [Available in the Law Library.]

Informing Policy

Policy-making is about solving problems, which means almost any resource can be useful for policy making so long as it is relevant, accurate, and reliable. Much of this research is conducted online now. If a website does not provide information about their organization, where they look to for factual information, and potentially even their funding, then it may not be a reliable source. If you are not sure, consult a librarian because information professionals are trained in ascertaining legitimate information sources.

The rest of this page overviews just a few of the helpful resources in environmental policy.

Congressional Research Service

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a non-partisan body staffed primarily by attorneys within the Library of Congress that produces reports at the request of members of Congress. These reports, known simply as CRS Reports, can provide analysis and background information (including statistics and historical discussions) from a non-biased point of view. 

These reports are not made available to the public by the Library of Congress, but some can be found in various locations online for free and through commercial databases. Most free websites are similarly organized and coverage differs. When you first start searching CRS Reports, try the various options to see which works best for you.

Free Options

  • Every CRS Report - https://www.everycrsreport.com/. As of January 2017, it contains 8,346 reports, everything available on Congress's intranet thanks to the cooperation of some members of Congress. Easy search options and well-organized topics. 
  • CRS Reports - https://crsreports.com/. Also has a wide collection of reports, recommended for older reports. 
  • Federation of American Scientists - https://fas.org/sgp/crs/. The search features are lacking, but reports are organized well into topics. To search this website, use Google Advanced Search and narrow the site to https://fas.org/sgp/crs/ before entering your search terms. 

Databases for the Loyola Community

White Papers and Reports

This is a very generic category that could encompass materials from government agencies, non-profits, think tanks, etc. When you are using these resources, be sure to consider whether they may have a partisan bias or other specific agenda, as it may skew their recommendations and your understanding. An quick note on partisan leanings for think tanks is Elizabeth Jensen, What to Think About Think Tanks?, NPR (Apr. 12, 2011), http://www.npr.org/sections/ombudsman/2011/04/22/134229266/what-to-think-about-think-tanks. Below are a few of the many examples. 

Many agency websites are organized by topic and may not have a centralized library of publications. For these issues, explore the website. For example, on the Fish and Wildlife Service webpage, there is a long listing of topics, each of which will bring you to another webpage that may have statistics, reports, policies, etc. 

Environmental Science

In an area like environmental law, scientific and technical information is critical as it informs how a problem is defined and solved. You can access statistical information and technical reports/journal articles on environmental issues; see the page on finding journal articles. (Although it is written for legal journals, it can apply to journals in other disciplines.) Search for research guides on environmental science or similar topics, like this one from Monroe Library on main campus or this guide from the Library of Congress.

Loyola students and faculty have access to this type of information electronically and in print primarily through the main campus library. You may find these databases and books helpful:

  • Environment Index - Locate articles on environmental issues and policy in over 1000 international journals. Dates vary, mostly early twentieth century to present.
  • GreenFILE - Locate general interest, research, and government publications about human impact on the environment. Early 1900s to present.
  • Academic Search Complete - Find articles in all subject areas in over 9000 journals and magazines, with full text for about 6100. Updated daily. Dates vary, some as early as 1865 to present.
  • Environmental Encyclopedia - This may serve as a good introduction for law students who are not versed in the scientific aspects of particular issues. Online, two-volume, full-text, non-technical encyclopedia of environmental issues, published 2011.
  • The RFF Reader in Environmental and Resource Policy - Print book available in the law library. This book focuses on how environmental science and economic principles are used to make policy and craft regulations.

Statistics

Statistics are important for policy making. You can find them in many places, but it is essential that you are able to rely on the accuracy of your sources. 

The use of statistics can be valuable and meaningful to the position you are researching and writing about, but remember the saying long attributed to Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies— lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Make sure you use a reputable source for identifying statistics, and use them appropriately and accurately. Anything less will harm your reputation and may hurt your grade or, worse yet, your client’s case.

Billie Jo Kauffman. "Finding and Using Statistics in Legal Research and Writing" Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research & Writing Vol. 14 Iss. 3 (2006) Available at: http://works.bepress.com/billie_kaufman/2/.

As we've seen with most areas of environmental law, the best places to start searching for statistics depend on the exact issue. 

U.S. Government Websites

If you are interested in comparative statistics or looking at information from other nations, many other states have statistical offices similar to the Census Bureau. For example, Eurostat is the official statistical office of the European Union; the Australian Bureau of StatisticsStatistics South Africa, etc. This is true for international organizations as well - the United Nations has the Environment Statistics Section of the United Nations Statistics Division, and the Organization for Cooperation and Development maintains a collection of environmental statistics.

Comparative Public Policy

Policy-makers often look to other places for potential solutions to problems. This happens between states within the U.S. and between different countries. This is because comparing policies can:

  • Be expedient and convenient
  • Lend support to a policy position
  • Help policy-makers avoid previous failures

"A knowledge and understanding of the public policies of other countries will allow each student to make more valid assessments of the public policies in this country. On the face of it, it seems absurd to reject national health insurance, for example, in favor of private health delivery, unless one actually has examined how well or poorly this policy has worked in other countries. . . . Whatever policy position you wish to defend, you will be a more successful advocate of that position if you are familiar with its alternatives." Howard M. Leichter & Harrell R. Rodgers, Jr., American Public Policy in a Comparative Context 15-17 (1984).

Historical Materials

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana, The Life of Reason; or, The Phases of Human Progress (1905).

Books and journal articles are some of the best places to find historical materials. They will provide analysis and often review or reproduce original historical documents. Many legal treatises will start with a chapter summarizing the field of law, including its historical evolution. Loyola members can check out books from the Law Library, the main university library Monroe, and Tulane Law Library. Use the library catalogs to search for books and related materials:

  1. Loyola Law: http://lawcat.loyno.edu/
  2. Monroe Library: http://library.loyno.edu/
  3. Tulane Law: http://library.law.tulane.edu/

See the page Finding Journal Articles for information on finding periodicals.