Environmental Enforcement Choice: Trading Off Equity for Environmental Benefits

EPA Grant Number: U915603
Title: Environmental Enforcement Choice: Trading Off Equity for Environmental Benefits
Investigators: Firestone, Jeremy M.
Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: August 1, 1999 through July 1, 2001
Project Amount: $24,126
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (1999) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Environmental Justice , Fellowship - Environmental


The objective of this research project is to determine what influences the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) choice to punish violators administratively, civil judicially, or criminally. Although there are procedural and substantive differences between civil and criminal liability, the EPA has broad discretion to choose among administrative, civil judicial, and criminal venues when it elects to penalize violators. Thus, the EPA plays an important gatekeeper function—it rations its own scarce personnel and fiscal resources, as well as access to other institutions such as the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorneys Offices, and federal courts. The EPA shows a preference for resolving a violation civilly rather than criminally, because with civil actions, the Agency can more easily meet its burden of proof and build on the existing precedents. The EPA prefers administrative to judicial actions because judicial proceedings require greater resources, provide targets with an enhanced ability to influence the outcome, and are characterized by delay and a loss of EPA control. These preferences lead the Agency to punish approximately 70 percent of violators administratively, 20 percent civil judicially, and the remainder criminally. This leads to the question: What influences EPA's choice among the three options?


I assembled a database of more than 300 administrative, civil-judicial, and criminal actions that were initiated during fiscal years 1990-1997 under the air, water, and hazardous waste programs. I construct empirical models (adjusted for stratification and cluster sampling) to analyze the choice among administrative, civil-judicial, and criminal actions. I separately model the EPA's "individual" and "organizational" violator decisions. I model the Agency as an environmental harm minimizer, and as a political support maximizer. I also examine whether environmental penalty provisions and the enforcement programs are structured in a manner that results in equitable treatment of violators.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, air, water, land, decisionmaking, EPA Region 1, EPA Region 2, EPA Region 3, EPA Region 4, EPA Region 5, EPA Region 6, EPA Region 7, EPA Region 8, EPA Region 9, EPA Region 10., RFA, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Scientific Discipline, Economics, decision-making, Social Science, Economics & Decision Making, social psychology, economic research, belief system, administrative action, environmental decision making, decision making, enforcement, demographics, criminal enforcement, behavior change, enforcement impact

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2000
  • Final