Poster Paper: Understanding Environmental Justice and Inequitable Administrative Outputs in the Policy Regime of Target Groups

Thursday, November 7, 2013
West End Ballroom A (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jiaqi Liang, American University
This paper theoretically conceptualizes race-based environmental injustice in the framework of policy regime of target groups, and empirically examines its impact on the administrative distribution of environmental protective benefits. Considerable empirical research has shown that African Americans are more likely to be exposed to environmental hazards and to experience less rigorous government implementation efforts. Despite voluminous studies on the political and structural determinants of state implementation patterns, sparse research addresses whether social valancing of target populations affects agency implementation practices. Policy regime of target groups, which fundamentally is conceptualized in social construction theory, posits that the widely perceived positive or negative valancing of target populations are closely relevant to the groups’ receipt of beneficial or burdensome policy treatment. Socially constructed policy systems have been profoundly conveying and reinforcing the normative and evaluative messages concerning the meaning of full citizenship and the mutual responsibility between the citizenry and the nation-state.

The paper further discusses the contemporary policy regime of target groups for African Americans. Given their expansive presence in public assistance and welfare programs, African Americans are more likely to be socially categorized as dependents or deviants as the “undeserving poor” that counteracted the values of personal responsibility, self-discipline, self-sufficiency, and white work ethic. Related to environmental equity, hypothetically when target populations are overrepresented by “deviants” who deserve the least benefits under the target-group policy regime, public administrators treat this segment of populations unequally by under-enforcing environmental regulations. Conceptually casting race as constructed social membership under the target-group policy regime, this paper is able to complement with additional explanatory power to exhibit a more complete picture of race effect on environmental inequalities.

Methodologically, I devise a time-series cross-section analysis evaluating whether and to what extent policy systems of target groups impact the implementation process. I empirically investigate the county-level environmental regulation enforcement activities of the CWA-NPDES program for African-American communities from 1996 to 2010. Environmentally vulnerable communities are defined as the highest 10th percentile of counties in terms of percent African-American populations (coded as 1 and otherwise as 0). The explanatory variable of the target-group policy regime of African Americans is measured by several state welfare policies. To assess the impacts of social valancing factors of target populations on administrative outputs, I introduce interaction effects between these two variables. The models also consider four vectors of control variables (i.e., political, socioeconomic, and task environment, and demographic characteristics) that are closely related to state implementation actions in environmental inequalities. Because of the data structure (e.g., event counts, multilevel variables), multilevel overdispersed Poisson regression models are employed. Findings indicate that state administrative outputs of compliance monitoring and assurance in environmental programs for African Americans are influenced by the policy regime of target groups, responding to the officially-sanctioned messages signaling “which groups deserve what, and ultimately who gets what.” (Hochschild and Weaver 2007, 159) From the results, this paper derives important implications for the role of public administration in the protection and enhancement of the citizenship of socially marginalized populations in a democratic polity.