This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

The Role of an Agency in Setting the Policy Agenda




Gemmill, John

Type of Degree



Political Science


This paper examines the impact a government agency can have on setting the political agenda for the agency’s policy area. While most literature on the role of agencies in the policy process acknowledges that agencies play a role in developing policy alternatives, it generally dismisses the possibility that the agency might affect the political agenda. The subject of this research is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Brownfield Initiative from the development of the Brownfield concept in 1992 to enactment of the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act in 2002. The Brownfield problem resulted from provisions of the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), better known as “Superfund.” Superfund is one of EPA’s main pieces of enabling legislation and addresses soil contamination. It defines cleanup standards and liabilities for owners of contaminated sites. Before its revision by the 2001 legislation, Superfund discouraged prospective owners from considering redevelopment and encouraged former owners to mothball sites, which were termed “brownfields.” From 1994 on, the EPA promoted a Brownfield Action Agenda to address the problem of thousands of abandoned former industrial properties. The EPA pursued grant programs, administrative remedies, regulatory changes and legislation to encourage private parties to redevelop the contaminated properties. The research evaluates whether these actions fit within expected parameters of agency behavior described by the agenda setting literature or whether they pushed the boundaries of agency involvement in the agenda setting process. The agency appears to have succeeded in influencing the federal political agenda by defining and promoting the brownfield issue through its grant program and its impact on local press and by organizing interests that were ideologically and economically attracted to the brownfield issue. Brownfield legislation was passed and signed into law in 2001 institutionalizing the brownfield program and amending critical pieces of Superfund legislation related to the redevelopment of contaminated sites.