Prosecuting for the Environment: Legalistic Enforcement and the Rule of Law in Brazil

EPA Grant Number: U915942
Title: Prosecuting for the Environment: Legalistic Enforcement and the Rule of Law in Brazil
Investigators: McAllister, Lesley K.
Institution: University of California - Berkeley
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: August 21, 2001 through August 1, 2004
Project Amount: $82,401
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2001) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Social Sciences , Environmental Justice


Environmental enforcement in Brazil and other developing countries often has been regarded as weak and ineffective. Although there may be strong written laws, enforcement agencies tend to lack resources and be subject to political pressures favoring economic development. Strategies to improve environmental enforcement often involve strengthening the legal instruments of enforcement, particularly the use of civil penalties and criminal prosecution. Brazil serves as a case study of the involvement of public prosecutors and of increasing the use of legal actors and instruments to address environmental problems. Granted strong powers during the democratization of the 1980s to defend "diffuse and collective" interests using civil investigations and lawsuits, prosecutorial institutions became active in the enforcement of environmental laws. The objective of this research project is to determine how prosecutorial institution involvement has reshaped environmental enforcement in Brazil.


The research draws from and contributes to the sociolegal literature on regulatory enforcement. A sociolegal approach studies law in its social context, generally using social scientific theories and methods. The sociolegal literature on regulatory enforcement has suggested that a legalistic and punitive enforcement style tends to increase the time, cost, and adversarial character of the regulatory process, while failing to achieve a greater degree of compliance or effectiveness overall. The present research uses a sociolegal approach to study changes in environmental enforcement in Brazil.

The research describes and analyzes how the involvement of prosecutors has changed enforcement style and enforcement outcomes in Brazil. Rigid interpretation of the law and formal legal penalties characterize the new, more legalistic style of environmental enforcement. In terms of outcomes, it strengthens mechanisms of deterrence, agency accountability, and citizen participation, and generally increases the legitimacy of environmental law in Brazil by making powerful political and economic actors subject to the rule of law. This research contributes to the literature by advancing the understanding of the relationship between enforcement style and outcomes in different political, economic, and cultural contexts. Although the new enforcement style shares many of the inefficiencies of legalism observed in other national contexts, it is highly valued in Brazil for its contribution to rule of law.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, environmental law, environmental regulation, environmental enforcement, enforcement style, prosecutors, Brazil.

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2002
  • 2003
  • Final