An idea whose time had come: an exploratory analysis of ethanol's rise to agenda prominence in the United States
Thesis DisciplinePolitical Science
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This work investigates the question, “what made ethanol’s time come when it did?” The case examined is the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-158), a landmark public policy law implemented in the United States to address the nation’s energy concerns. The Act’s emphasis on ethanol as a central part of the solution to address the energy crisis represented perhaps the most significant single policy shift in the history of the nation’s energy programme. This research draws attention to the process that resulted in ethanol being given a key role in American energy policy by investigating the pre-decision, agenda setting stage, of the process. Using qualitative research methodologies, this study conducts a historical case study analysis of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Multiple Streams agenda setting framework developed by Kingdon ( 1995) is the one which forms the backbone of the study. This research suggests that the greatest influence on ethanol’s placement on the agenda was the way in which policy problems were constructed. When the energy, agricultural, and environmental problems that had garnered ethanol some legislative consideration in the 1970s and 1980s reemerged in the early 2000s, ethanol emerged as an attractive policy option that was seen as addressing each of these concerns. The role of interest groups and policy entrepreneurs helped to reinforce the relationship between these problems. The tactic of seeking aid from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had its advantages, as support from these agencies gave the proposals offered by pro-ethanol interest groups and corn state politicians greater weight. In addition, the fall in political influence of the petroleum industry (a traditionally effective oppositional force to the advance of ethanol) helped to facilitate and reinforce favourable political factors such as pro-ethanol presidential campaign platforms and a public mood that favoured decisive action. With some small modifications, Kingdon’s agenda setting framework, originally designed and applied in the context of health and transportation, holds up well when extended to the energy policy domain. One key point where the energy agenda setting process appears to diverge from Kingdon’s model occurs in the problem stream, which does not appear to be distinct from the political stream. Instead, this research suggests that problem definition plays a strong role in informing the content of the political stream. Kingdon’s framework has significant potential to enhance our knowledge of alternative energy policy formation.