Although about 90% of environmental policy is delegated to the states for implementation, the individuals responsible for implementing a majority of that policy are largely understudied. Existing acknowledgment of these regulators typically extends only to the regulatory enforcement strategy their agency employs. Missing in these conversations is a focused study on the regulators themselves and their perceptions of the regulated community that they interact with daily. Understanding these perceptions will provide insights into how regulators approach their interactions and how they ensure regulatory compliance. This paper uses an exploratory case study approach to focus on front-line regulators with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via agency-wide surveys. Findings from the surveys reveal generally positive perceptions of the regulated community in both states and experiences with them. The findings call attention to a neglected population and emphasize the importance of regulators’ perceptions in their regulatory approach.
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Waterman et al. (2004) do focus on civil servants in various environmental protection agencies, but their focus is more concerned with the internal workings of government and the relationships among various governmental actors. Moreover, Scheberle (2004) also examines civil servants in environmental protection agencies, but she too is more concerned with the dynamics between state- and federal-level employees.
Although there are federal and local environmental inspectors in some circumstances, state regulators typically take the lead in implementing and enforcing environmental regulations in the USA.
There are finer distinctions in water; typically, inspectors specialize in groundwater, surface water, or drinking water.
Waste is usually divided into solid waste and hazardous waste.
Hawkins’s use of the word “polluters” to label facility personnel is vexing. The term communicates that such actors are “bad” and cannot possibly be “good.” It might be noted that inspectors pollute as well—think of all the driving inspectors have to do to physically get to a facility for an inspection! Such a characterization of facility personnel is outdated and reflects more adversarial perceptions about regulated facilities.
Since this is a preliminary study of this topic, the survey was confined to two agencies to control for state-level variation.
Ohio EPA’s web site: http://www.epa.state.oh.us.
Although there is a division of air pollution in OEPA, most of the compliance and enforcement oversight with air regulations in the Southwest District Office is relegated to local entities that are responsible for such measures, such as the Regional Air Pollution Control Agency (RAPCA).
Wisconsin DNR’s web site: http://www.dnr.wi.gov.
The number of front-line regulators was provided to us by WI DNR.
The comparatively low response rate in Ohio is disappointing, but explainable. The Director of OEPA stipulated that while all front-line regulators in OEPA could be contacted via their work e-mail regarding the survey, the survey must not be completed on state time and with state equipment (e.g., office computers). Therefore, the regulators who completed the survey had to do so on personal time, and this condition presumably led to a lower response rate. Furthermore, nonresponse bias is an increasing concern—though one that is difficult to quantitatively access—because the individuals who elected to complete the survey may have been individuals with particularly strong opinions and reasons for doing so. Accordingly, limited generalizability is possible from these results.
In both agencies, we inquired about demographic data for their front-line regulators. Such data were not available from either agency. Accordingly, we are unable to more fully explore the characteristics of those regulators who responded to our survey and those who did not.
A seemingly large number of men is unsurprising as men continue to dominate environmental science and engineering fields.
Standard deviation: OH = 8.2, WI = 8.75.
These motives might instead concern fear of regulatory sticks, or other government sanctions, for example.
These four questions explore the perceptions of these front-line regulators regarding the regulated community they interact with in Ohio and Wisconsin. Statistical testing indicates that these questions are reliable measures (Cronbach’s α = 0.844); factor analysis confirms their relationship.
Pautz (2009b) found that facility personnel in Virginia sought compliance as well and were far less resistant to the demands of environmental regulation, as may have been thought initially. The motives for compliance may not be environmental—further study is needed—but compliance is the goal according to these regulators.
Only 266 of the 355 respondents could be categorized because of missing data for one of the questions used to derive a regulator’s score in each of the two broad categories.
Percentages add to 101 because of rounding.
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Pautz, M.C., Rinfret, S.R. Making sense of the front lines: environmental regulators in Ohio and Wisconsin. J Environ Stud Sci 1, 277–288 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-011-0041-0