Speed Reads

do as i say, not as i do

Government agencies are more likely to pollute — and less likely to be punished

Government-owned facilities like power plants, hospitals, and water utilities pollute in violation of environmental laws more often than their private counterparts — but they get punished less often.

For example, public hospitals and power plants are 20 percent more likely to commit high priority violations of the Clean Air Act but also 20 percent less likely to be fined when compared to private facilities. This and similar findings were derived from analysis of the records of 3,000 power plants, 1,000 hospitals, and 4,200 water utilities published in the American Journal of Political Science.

The study authors suggest that it is more difficult for public agencies to comply with regulations, but they also note that "agencies do not face direct competition from other firms, rarely face elimination, and may have sympathetic political allies." As a result, "the regulator's usual array of enforcement instruments (e.g., fines, fees, and licensure) may be potent enough to alter behavior when the target is a private firm, but less effective when the regulated entity is a government agency."