Pollution Limits and Polluters' Efforts to Comply: The Role of Government Monitoring and Enforcement

Pollution Limits and Polluters' Efforts to Comply: The Role of Government Monitoring and Enforcement

Pollution Limits and Polluters' Efforts to Comply: The Role of Government Monitoring and Enforcement

Pollution Limits and Polluters' Efforts to Comply: The Role of Government Monitoring and Enforcement

Synopsis

This book integrates the fields of economics and law to empirically examine compliance with regulatory obligations under the Clean Water Act (CWA). It examines four dimensions of federal water pollution control policy in the United States: limits imposed on industrial facilities' pollution discharges; facilities' efforts to comply with pollution limits, identified as "environmental behavior"; facilities' success at controlling their discharges to comply with pollution limits, identified as "environmental performance"; and regulators' efforts to induce compliance via inspections and enforcement actions, identified as "government interventions."

The authors gather and analyze data on environmental performance and government interventions from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) databases, and data on environmental behavior gathered from their own survey of all 1,612 chemical manufacturing facilities permitted to discharge wastewater in 2002. By analyzing links between critical elements in the puzzle of enforcement of and compliance with environmental protection laws, the text speaks to several important, policy-relevant research questions: Do government interventions help induce better environmental behavior and/or better environmental performance? Do tighter pollution limits improve environmental behavior and/or performance? And, does better environmental behavior lead to better environmental performance?

Excerpt

In 1972, Congress adopted one of the nation’s landmark environmental laws, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments, now known as the Clean Water Act. Passage was prompted by concern over the egregious state of the quality of the nation’s coastal waters, rivers, lakes, and streams, some of which were so contaminated by industrial chemicals that they caught fire. Others were befouled with oil from events such as the Santa Barbara, California, oil spill in January 1969, which produced images on television news broadcasts of oil slicks and oilsoaked birds and marine mammals. The new law sought to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” by establishing a goal of eliminating the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters by 1985.

That lofty goal was obviously not achieved by the target date and is still little more than a distant and perhaps impossible dream. There is little question, however, that over the nearly four decades since the enactment of the Clean Water Act, enormous progress has been made in cleaning up the nation’s waters. The quality of major rivers such as the Hudson and the Potomac has improved sufficiently to allow recreational uses that most would not have dared to pursue in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Few would dispute the notion that the Clean Water Act has been an enormously successful pollution abatement initiative.

Yet, as the first decade of the twenty- first century approached an end, and with the fortieth anniversary of the Clean Water Act on the horizon, trouble was brewing. From many quarters, disturbing reports of failures . . .

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