Leveraging Enforcement to Enhance Community: The Use of Supplemental Environmental Projects to Promote Environmental Justice



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When businesses, institutions or organizations fail to comply with environmental laws and regulations they may face administrative or judicial enforcement. The dominant enforcement type, administrative enforcement, is carried out by federal, state or local environmental protection agencies that use monetary penalties to deter members of the regulated community from committing more violations. Unfortunately, the frequency, certainty and size of penalties serve no purpose other than deterrence because the penalties collected often end-up in a general fund at the state level or in the US Treasury at the federal level, with little or no benefit to communities affected by the violations. In the 1990s, the U.S. EPA introduced a policy that allowed alleged violators to offset a portion of their monetary penalties by engaging in supplemental environmental projects (SEP) in their local community. SEPs were designed to encourage beyond compliance solutions to environmental problems that directly serve the needs of local communities while improving the relationship between the community, the alleged violator and the enforcement agency. The 1990s also saw the emergence of an environmental justice (EJ) movement that showed how poor and minority communities were more often exposed to environmental hazards and violations than other communities. In our study we chose to investigate if the expanded use of SEP could serve to provide restorative justice to EJ communities adversely affected by environmental violations. We also sought to identify areas of priority for an SEP expansion strategy that is EJ oriented. Our results show that although states carry out most of the enforcement actions nationwide, the penalties they collect are usually too small to entice alleged violators to engage in SEPs. We found that a state level SEP enhancement strategy should focus primarily on Clean Air Act (CAA) enforcement which produced the largest, most geographically distributed enforcement actions nationwide. The Clean Water Act produces large penalties only in four states that include California, New York, Kentucky and Louisiana. Our analysis of large CAA enforcement reveals that poor communities are more often located in areas where environmental violations occur and that EJ communities represent a large share of those communities. We identified that the most significant EJ enforcement hotspots related to large CAA enforcement are located in Louisiana, California, Texas and U.S. EPA Region 4. We thus concluded that an SEP expansion strategy aimed at improving EJ goals should target those EJ enforcement hotspots.






Kuoh, Dika (2013). Leveraging Enforcement to Enhance Community: The Use of Supplemental Environmental Projects to Promote Environmental Justice. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/6849.

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