Governments are more likely than businesses to break pollution regulations

I believe I linked to an earlier version of these results a while ago, but the point deserves reiteration:

For the study, Konisky and Teodoro examined records from 2000 to 2011 for power plants and hospitals regulated under the Clean Air Act and from 2010 to 2013 for water utilities regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The study included over 3,000 power plants, over 1,000 hospitals and over 4,200 water utilities — some privately owned and others owned by public agencies.

  • For power plants and hospitals, public facilities were on average 9 percent more likely to be out of compliance with Clean Air Act regulations and 20 percent more likely to have committed high-priority violations.

  • For water utilities, public facilities had on average 14 percent more Safe Drinking Water Act health violations and were 29 percent more likely to commit monitoring violations.

  • Public power plants and hospitals that violated the Clean Air Act were 1 percent less likely than private-sector violators to receive a punitive sanction and 20 percent less likely to be fined.

  • Public water utilities that violated Safe Drinking Water Act standards were 3 percent less likely than investor-owned utilities to receive formal enforcement actions.

Konisky said the findings are significant but not surprising. Government entities have higher costs of complying with regulations because they often must go through political processes to raise the money needed to improve their facilities. And they may face pushback from customers or taxpayers who object to higher rates and have the political power to block them.

Public entities also face lower costs for violating the regulations, the authors argue. There is evidence from other studies that they are able to delay or avoid paying fines when penalties are assessed. And officials with regulatory agencies may be sympathetic to violations by public entities, because they understand the difficulty of securing resources in the public sector.

The full Indiana press release is here, and for the pointer I thank Charles Klingman.


First. " Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see."

Similar reasoning for why cops beat or shoot without cause, I'd think.

True, true. Or malicious prosecution. Or defamation by Federal employers against former employees, knowing that they are statutorily immune from prosecution for defamation. And the list goes on (tenured professors getting lazy and just blogging on economics? Instead of doing more important things like playing chess? Ha!)

It strikes me that 1) numbers around 10% are not exactly a smoking gun, and 2) a slight bias might come from government workers thinking that they are already working in the public interest.

Perhaps that is like cops. "Wait a minute, I might be the problem" is a shift in focus.

Of course, increased violations of environmental laws by state and local governments has coincided with control of state and local governments by Republicans. Is it because Republicans are by nature law breakers or because Republicans have left state and local governments without sufficient funds to comply with environmental laws.

My state, Florida, is dominated by the Republican Party, which controls both houses of the legislature and the governor's office. Indeed, the governor is a notorious lawbreaker, having been CEO of a hospital company while it committed Medicare fraud that resulted in the largest fraud penalty. Ever. I've observed that the fine folks in Florida elected him governor, twice, because they believed that, with his experience stealing from the federal government, he could do the same for Florida.

"with his experience stealing from the federal government, he could do the same for Florida."

He did take the Medicaid expansion money, IIRC. So the voters were correct.

"Of course, increased violations of environmental laws by state and local governments has coincided with control of state and local governments by Republicans."

Got to love those unsourced assertions.

I really don't understand how lawyers can be so bad at reading comprehension.

Everyone is equal before the law, except if you work for the government -- then you are more equal than everyone else... and get special treatment.

Municipal sewage treatment facilities are heavy polluters and almost never sanctioned by standing laws.

It's Good to be King

Would it make any sense to fine a public entity for infringement? The taxpayer pays the taxpayer, and no private actors feel the burden of the fine.

In cases of both public and private law violations, it would be nice if decision makers were to sometimes face the fire, rather than shareholders and the public always covering the full cost of their mistakes. Consider pharmaceuticals. How can a company be liable to the tune of $1 billion, but no individual(s) is(are) held responsible?

Why do companies have "profit centers?" In order to allocate costs and resources better.

Also, infringements still need to be monitored and reduced. Agencies threatened with the loss of budget due to fines would act more responsibly.

I would describe the findings differently:

1. Local governments are regulated entities just like private business;
2. Regulations pass direct and indirect cost on all regulated entities;
3. Local government units operate under a different set of fiscal constraints, both in terms of the resources available within the geographic unit served and political barriers to raising taxes;
4. Non-punitive civil penalties are intended to encourage compliance and disgorge competitive advantages received from non-compliance, neither of which may be as effective against local governments which are usually not in competition, and do not have profits to threaten.
5. The element of malice is unlikely to be present to impose punitive penalties against local government, particularly if the context is fiscal constraints.

I think this is more of an unfunded mandate issue.

Yes. YES! Government agencies always need more money even if they break the rules, take shortcuts and flaunt the regulators. The solution is more money.

An instance of this happened recently in a local facility. Someone was hurt doing work they were not qualified to do. His manager told me that he didn't have money for training. I almost suggested that his wage would have been a good start. He still has his job, in fact got a promotion.

They do it because they can get away with it. No one gets fired. If it is really egregious they get more money. The incentives are to flaunt the rules.

so I take it you believe environmental regulations have no costs?

Of course they don't! Proponents of every new regulation invariably assert that they actually save the regulated money. It just that the regulated are too stupid or insufficiently greedy pick up all those free dollars unless the beneficent regulator forces them to.

Sure. So do pensions, employee benefits, and other stuff like that. Let those be used up to meet the regulations. Welcome to the real world.

Actually providing a service, and meeting regulations are somewhere at the bottom of the list of most publicly owned government agencies.

In fact, almost all the government agencies I deal with, with the exception of revenue collection, spend a large portion of their time and effort getting compliance from public agencies.

And the compliance they do is often unrelated to any desired policy outcome or even reflective of reality. There are an amazing number of gov't-to-gov't compliance requests driven by intergovernmental rivalry, political reasons, or even personal spite, sometimes resulting in millions of taxpayer dollars going to legal fees on top of the compliance costs.

These rivalries sometimes get a bit ridiculous. I was involved in a situation once in which a property was sold to a resident by a county with the explicit condition that the property not be sold to the water district.

Also, you apparently didn't notice some violations were 20-30% higher.

"The element of malice is unlikely to be present to impose punitive penalties against local government, particularly if the context is fiscal constraints." An individual or organization may operate with negligence rather than malice. The outcome will be similar.

Rules are for the private sector

If that were true, surely we won't be seeing 100% or 200% increased violations. Not a squidge at the margin.

Might be closer to the truth. Remember, this is just what was reported by government agencies.

You know that introducing paranoia to support a bias is even worse than introducing even selective or suspicious data?

Basically you are making clear that you don't need to fact check your beliefs against reality.

You are data proof.

So your assumption is that government agencies never misreport data?

I use the data above, I do not invent my own.

There is no invented data. You asked why the data looked a certain way. I suggested an answer. Sorry the answer was ideologically inconvenient for you, but the answer was well-founded -- as was pointed out below, this would not even include instance where a government exempted itself.

Also, you apparently didn’t notice some violations were 20-30% higher. Not "a squidge at the margins."

The reason that the rivers in England were often polluted with shit was that the "regional water authorities" were disinclined to prosecute themselves for pollution. Thatcher split it up: water supply and sewage treatment to "privatised" (i.e. public) companies, and pollution policing to a central government body. The rivers are far cleaner now.

And there's the answer. Privatize the publicly owned utilities and the new owners will be responsive to the regulations. Since they'll be accountable.

Has anyone been fired from the EPA for their recent spill?

Was Lisa Jackson punished in any way for using a secret pseudonymous email "Richard Windsor" for government work?

No, she was instead given a sinecure at Apple computer. (Yes, if I were Apple the first person I would hire was an employee who hid correspondence from her previous employer.)

BTW, Lisa chose Richard Windsor as the name because it was the name of her dog.

Guess who else used a pseudonymous email that just happened to be the name of their dog?

Lois Lerner. aka “Toby Miles,”

I guess it could be coincidence that both of these instances used a male name for a female government official.

I almost suspect that someone was offering advice in how to hide emails.

But its probably just bizarre coincidence or just how tricky minds would think alike.

So you may now be wondering what this has to do with governmental bodies polluting more than private groups.

Its because they have no accountability.

My city has some high standards when it comes to pollution but the own the electric company and so exempted it.

That means they would have reported zero violations in this report. That's probably fairly common, since it's the path of least resistance for elected officials and bureaucrats. So this report probably understates the problem significantly.

You government to have an adversarial relationship with the governed.

The Defense Department is responsible for the biggest fuel spill in US history and they don't know what to do about it.
The Air Force has also contaminated the ground water in Galena, Alaska, on the Yukon River, with jet fuel, making the water from local wells toxic. The number one source of pollution on the upper Mississippi River is the National Guard base at Camp Ripley, Minnesota, near Brainerd.

"Minnesota’s seven county, Twin Cities Metro Area (TCMA) uses about 349,000 tons of road salt each year (Sander et al. 2007, based on salt purchasing records). The chloride in salt is a toxic pollutant that accumulates over time in our waters. Thirty-eight stream reaches, lakes and wetlands are impaired for aquatic life due to high concentrations of chloride in the TCMA according to the Minnesota Pollution
Control Agency’s (MPCA’s) 2014 Proposed 303(d) List of Impaired Waters (MPCA 2014a)."

California uses pumice, but then I am told that we pay Danish level taxes for all that good work.

Is it a contradiction when low tax states skimp on solutions and then blame "government?"

"Minnesota's 2011 tax burden of 10.7% ranks 6th highest out of 50 states, and is above the national average of 9.8%. Minnesota's taxpayers pay $4858 per capita in state and local taxes."

Incentives matter.

I'm an engineer at a munincipality, and before that, I worked in nuclear power in the Navy. I would think the biggest difference is that as a public worker (below the political level), it's pretty hard to fire me, and except in extreme negligence, I'm not losing money if there's a mistake made. Like TallDave said, incentives matter.

I will say that the quality level of work in the navy was higher because we had outside (outside of our chain of command, anyway) inspectors going over our actions and paperwork quite regularly. That kept things pretty well in line. I haven't seen the EPA in our plant ever, except to check on the outcomes of some grant money we got. I imagine they actively ignore us, unless we report something is wrong.

Somewhat funny, somewhat sad, that Bill Gates has joined the conspiracy. He now claims to see climate change and government efficiently roughly equal to that of the private sector.

Do they have his children hostage?

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