Environmental Justice and Federalism

Environmental Justice and Federalism

Dennis C. Cory, Tauhidur Rahman, Satheesh Aradhyula, Melissa Anne Burns and Miles H. Kiger

The authors discuss two case studies in their investigation of the complex interactions between environmental justice and government. These analyses offer a comprehensive view of both the siting and regulation of polluting activities, as well as a discussion of the effects on major natural resources such as clean air and drinking water. In each case, the authors both describe current government responses to the problem and offer specific recommendations regarding what actions should be taken in the future.

Chapter 4: Environmental justice and enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act: the Arizona arsenic experience

Dennis C. Cory, Tauhidur Rahman, Satheesh Aradhyula, Melissa Anne Burns and Miles H. Kiger

Subjects: economics and finance, environmental economics, environment, environmental economics, environmental law, environmental politics and policy, law - academic, environmental law, human rights, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy, human rights


The process of implementing and enforcing environmental standards is complex. Regulatory agencies are simultaneously monitoring the behavior of hundreds of potential violators; determining which violators to prosecute and whether to pursue violations at the administrative, civil, or criminal levels; and constantly adjusting monitoring and prosecutorial procedures to changing economic and technological conditions. Somewhat surprisingly, it has been well documented that enforcement is selectively exercised; that is, enforcement is exercised in ways that vary dramatically from the conventional prescriptions of economic deterrence theory. Violators are frequently not pursued at all or are pursued with expected penalties that are inconsequential compared to the cost of compliance (Harrington, 1988). This reliance on selective enforcement is now well understood. By realistically accounting for institutional and resource constraints, efficiency justifications for selective enforcement can be cogently established. Both dynamic enforcement considerations and penalty leveraging (Harrington, 1988),1 as well as spatial enforcement considerations and regulatory dealing (Heyes and Rickman, 1999),2 provide an efficiency basis for allowing regulatory agencies’ wide latitude in sanctioning violations of environmental law. The provision of safe drinking water provides a dramatic example of the inherent complexity involved with the implementation and enforcement of new environmental standards.3 The SDWA requires the US EPA to set national standards that protect human health and then requires public water systems (PWSs)4 to meet these standards. More than 160,000 PWSs must implement these standards whether they supply

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