There is an interesting difference between the basic pattern that crime and security legislation tend to follow, after passage, when compared with the development of environmental laws. In general, crime and security legislation is too strong at the outset: it exaggerates a particular risk (say, youth violence) and then creates draconian measures intended to counter it. Generally, the measures are less effective than expected and there are virtual always harmful side effects not fully anticipated by the drafters of the law. Often, the courts compel the evolution of such laws into more pragmatic vehicles that strike a better balance between mitigating a problem and creating new ones, such as abuses of authority.
Environmental laws, by contrast, often start out weak and riddled with loopholes. As they operate, people realize that they do have the power to mitigate the target problem, are they are often tightened to that effect. Usually, costs turn out to be lower than the opponents of the law claimed they would be at the outset; after all, opponents of environmental legislation know that scaring politicians with talk of economic destruction and job losses is an effective approach to blocking stricter environmental rules.
A major difference between the two, I think, has to do with the psychology of politicians. Nobody wants to be seen to be ‘soft on crime’ or insufficiently committed to fighting terrorism. In either case, there is a big downside risk if you oppose a law and then the problem it targeted gets worse. Since environmental outcomes are usually less clear (and less closely observed by voters), that is less of a risk when it comes to opposing environmental regulations.
There is also the flawed by widely accepted view that there is a trade off between economic and environmental health. You rarely hear politicians opposing tough crime or security legislation by evoking such a notion of ‘balance.’ While air pollution kills far more people than terrorism, the point is rarely raised in political forums. In order to improve environmental outcomes – and deal with the major threat of climate change – it seems necessary to improve the risk perceptions of both politicians and the public at large, as well as the sophistication of the debate about public policy issues.