Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Environmental Regulations and Local Government Institutional Capacity

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Environmental Regulations and Local Government Institutional Capacity

Article excerpt


This study represents an attempt to evaluate the impact of intergovernmental environmental regulations on local government institutional capacity. The empirical portion of the article is the result of comparative case study research of ten localities involving the investigation of environmental regulations in three areas: drinking water, sewage, and solid waste management. Particular attention was paid to local government (1) relations with other levels of government; (2) service provision; and (3) trends in personnel training and organizational structure.

The findings provide evidence that environmental regulations may improve local government institutional capacity because they result in an increase in the extent and quality of intergovernmental interactions and an increase in the number, education, training, and certification of local government officials. In addition, the need is identified for further research that explores the extent to which intergovernmental environmental regulations impact local government service provision.


Environmental policy is a young field within the study of public policy having emerged less than 35 years ago when Lynton Keith Caldwell (1963) published his article on the environment as a public policy. Since that time, scholars in the area have focused primarily on the role of the federal government (e.g., Fiorino, 1995; Portney, 1990; Rosenbaum, 1995; Vig and Kraft, 1994) and the state governments (e.g., Davis and Lester, 1987; Desai, 1991; Hamilton, 1990; Lester, 1995; Rabe, 1986; Tobin, 1992). Relatively little attention has been paid to local governments and environmental policy.

Therefore, when unfunded mandates reform was placed on the national agenda in the mid-1990s, the ability of environmental policy scholars to provide useful input was limited. The empirical research that did seem to affect the debate were cost estimates of unfunded mandates produced by cities such as Anchorage, Alaska and Columbus, Ohio, states such as New Jersey and Ohio, and associations such as the United States Conference of Mayors and the National Associations of Counties. Both the United States Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties commissioned Price Waterhouse (1993a, 1993b) to produce studies that estimated the costs of federal mandates to cities and counties to be in excess of $4.8 billion and $6.5 billion respectively in 1993.

These figures caught the attention of citizens and politicians alike and unfunded mandates reform was integrated into the House Republicans' Contract with America. However, many of these studies were incomplete and flawed solely on the negative impacts of mandates. Rigorous empirically-based research presenting a balanced view of the costs and benefits of intergovernmental environmental regulations was absent from the unfunded mandates debate.

In order to gain a more complete understanding of the impact of intergovernmental environmental regulations on local governments, a comparative case study of ten municipalities was undertaken. The following research question formed the basis for this study: what impacts are environmental regulations having on local government (1) relations with other governments, (2) services, and (3) personnel and structures? The research focused on the effect that environmental regulations have on government institutional capacity.


The research method used in this study is the comparative case method. A limited number of localities were chosen for in-depth investigation. This approach to research is particularly appropriate in areas of research characterized by a lack of theoretical development. It allows researchers to gain an understanding of the richness of context while searching for patterns among units of analysis (Lijphart, 1971; Yin, 1994). The comparative case design facilitates hypothesis development as opposed to hypothesis testing. …

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