Panel Paper: Evaluating Federal Policies to Promote Fairness In Environmental Regulatory Enforcement

Friday, November 9, 2012 : 10:25 AM
McKeldon (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

David Konisky, Georgetown University and Christopher Reenock, Florida State University

Environmental justice issues have been on the agenda of the federal government for a couple of decades.  The hallmark action taken at the executive level was President Clinton signing Executive Order 12898 in 1994, which directed federal agencies to develop strategies to promote enforcement of public health and environmental laws in poor and minority communities.  Did federal agencies develop and execute new strategies of this kind?  In particular, did the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bolster its enforcement of major environmental statutes (and its oversight of state enforcement programs) as part of an effort to more equally protect poor and minority populations?  Did facility compliance in these communities improve as a result?  This paper will address these and related questions. 

The first part of the paper will analyze patterns of compliance and regulatory enforcement across major environmental statutes, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.  As part of this analysis, we will summarize the small body of extant academic research that has systematically investigated correlations between facility-level compliance and government enforcement activity (at the both the federal and state level) and community demographic characteristics, namely class, race, and ethnicity. 

The second part of the paper will summarize the policy efforts of the EPA to redress biases in compliance and enforcement outcomes through actions such as Executive Order 12898.  We will analyze whether these policies that have the stated aim to promote fairness in the enforcement of environmental laws in poor and minority communities have been effective.  This analysis will pay particular attention to the important role of state governments in implementing most pollution control laws, and to the ability of the federal government to influence the decision-making of relevant state administrative agencies.  This section of the paper will also include original quantitative analysis of compliance outcomes and regulatory enforcement patterns, using a combination of time-series and difference-in-difference analysis of historical facility-level data to identify whether outcomes have changed since the EPA began to pay attention to equity concerns.

The final section of the paper will discuss the implications of our analysis for federal policy moving forward.  The EPA’s new initiative to confront environmental injustices, Plan EJ 2014, includes efforts to address inequitable outcomes through planning, case targeting strategies, and the development of remedies to directly benefit overburdened communities.  We believe the analysis in this paper will inform these important efforts.