Skip to main content

Making sense of the front lines: environmental regulators in Ohio and Wisconsin

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    There are finer distinctions in water; typically, inspectors specialize in groundwater, surface water, or drinking water.

  4. 4.

    Waste is usually divided into solid waste and hazardous waste.

  5. 5.

    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.

  6. 6.

    Since this is a preliminary study of this topic, the survey was confined to two agencies to control for state-level variation.

  7. 7.

    Ohio EPA’s web site: http://www.epa.state.oh.us.

  8. 8.

    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).

  9. 9.

    Wisconsin DNR’s web site: http://www.dnr.wi.gov.

  10. 10.

    The number of front-line regulators was provided to us by WI DNR.

  11. 11.

    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.

  12. 12.

    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.

  13. 13.

    A seemingly large number of men is unsurprising as men continue to dominate environmental science and engineering fields.

  14. 14.

    Standard deviation: OH = 8.2, WI = 8.75.

  15. 15.

    These motives might instead concern fear of regulatory sticks, or other government sanctions, for example.

  16. 16.

    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.

  17. 17.

    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.

  18. 18.

    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.

  19. 19.

    Percentages add to 101 because of rounding.

References

  1. Anderson W (1960) Intergovernmental relations in review. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis

    Google Scholar 

  2. Andrews RNL (2006) Managing the environment, managing ourselves: a history of American environmental policy. Yale University Press, New Haven

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bardach E (1978) The implementation game: what happens after a bill becomes a law. The MIT Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bardach E, Kagan R (2002/1982) Going by the book: the problem of regulatory unreasonableness. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick

  5. Black J (1998) Talking about regulation. Public Law 15:77–105

    Google Scholar 

  6. Braithwaite J, Walker J, Grabosky P (1987) An enforcement taxonomy of regulatory agencies. Law & Policy 9:325–351

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Cline K (2008) Working relationships in the national superfund program: The state administrators’ perspective. J Pub Admin Res Theor 20(1):117–135

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Coglianese C, Nash J (eds) (2001) Regulating from the inside: can environmental management systems achieve policy goals? Resources for the Future, Washington, DC

  9. Coglianese C, Nash J (eds) (2006) Leveraging the private sector: management-based strategies for improving environmental performance. Resources for the Future, Washington, DC

  10. Day P, Klein R (1987) The regulation of nursing homes: a comparative perspective. The Milbank Q 65(3):303–347

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Dillman D (2000) Mail and Internet surveys: the tailored design method, 2nd edn. Wiley, New York

    Google Scholar 

  12. Eisinger PK, Gormley W (eds) (1988) The Midwest response to the new federalism. The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison

    Google Scholar 

  13. Eisner MA (2006) Governing the environment: the transformation of environmental regulation. Rienner, Boulder

    Google Scholar 

  14. Environmental Council of the States (2001) State environmental agency contributions to enforcement and compliance. Report to Congress (April). http://ecos.org

  15. Fineman S (1998) Street-level bureaucrats and the social construction of environmental control. Org Studies 16(6):953–974

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Fiorino DJ (2006) The new environmental regulation. MIT Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  17. Gormley WT, Peters BG (1992) National styles of regulation: child care in three countries. Policy Sci 25(3):381–399

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. U.S. Government Accounting Office (2002) Environmental protection: overcoming obstacles to innovative state regulatory programs. Report to Congressional Requesters, GAO-02-268, Washington, DC

  19. Hawkins K (1984) Environment and enforcement: regulation and the social definition of pollution. Clarendon, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  20. Hedge DM, Menzel DC, Williams GH (1988) Regulatory attitudes and behavior: the case of surface mining regulation. Western Politic Quart 41(2):323–340

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Hoffman A (2001) From heresy to dogma: an institutional history of corporate environmentalism. Stanford Business Books, Stanford

    Google Scholar 

  22. Hutter BM (1997) Compliance: regulation and environment. Clarendon, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  23. Kagan RA (2001) Adversarial legalism: the American way of law. Harvard University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  24. Kaplowitz MD, Hadlock TD, Levine R (2004) A comparison of web and mail survey response rates. Pub Opinion Quart 68(1):94–101

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Kettl D (2002) Conclusion: the next generation. In: Kettl D (ed) Environmental governance: a report on the next generation of environmental policy. Brookings Institution Press, Washington, pp 177–190

    Google Scholar 

  26. Kickert WJM, Klijn E, Koppenjan JFM (1997) Managing networks in the public sector: findings and reflections. In: Kickert WJM, Klijn E, Koppenjan JFM (eds) Managing complex networks: strategies for the public sector. Sage, Thousand Oaks, pp 166–191

    Google Scholar 

  27. Konisky D (2007) Regulator attitudes and the environmental race to the bottom argument. J Public Admin Res Theory 18(2):321–344

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Kraft M (2011) Environmental politics and policy. Longman, New York

    Google Scholar 

  29. Kraft ME, Stephan M, Abel TD (2011) Coming clean: information disclosure and environmental performance. The MIT Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  30. Lee E (2008) Socio-political contexts, identity formation, and regulatory compliance. Adm & Soc 40(7):741–769

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. Lipsky M (1980) Street-level bureaucracy: dilemmas of the individual in public services. Russell Sage, New York

    Google Scholar 

  32. Makkai T, Braithwaite J (1992) In and out of the revolving door: making sense of regulatory capture. J Public Policy 12(1):61–78

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. May PJ (2005) Compliance motivations: perspective of farmers, homebuilders, and marine facilities. Law & Policy 27(2):318–347

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. May PJ, Winter S (2009) Politicians, managers, and street-level bureaucrats: influences on policy implementation. J Public Admin Res Theory 19(3):456–476

    Google Scholar 

  35. May PJ, Wood RS (2003) At the regulatory frontlines: inspectors’ enforcement styles and regulatory compliance. J Public Admin Res Theory 13(2):117–139

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Maynard-Moody S, Musheno M (2003) Cops, teachers, counselors: stories from the front lines of public service. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor

    Google Scholar 

  37. Pautz MC (2009a) Trust between regulators and the regulated: a case study of environmental inspectors and facility personnel in Virginia. Politics & Policy 37(5):1001–1026

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Pautz MC (2009b) Perceptions of the regulated community in environmental policy: the view from below. Rev Policy Res 26(5):533–550

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Pautz MC (2010) Front-line regulators and their approach to environmental regulation in Southwest Ohio. Rev Policy Res 27(6):761–780

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Potoski M, Prakash A (2004) The regulation dilemma: cooperation and conflict in environmental governance. Public Admin Rev 64(2):152–163

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Pressman JL, Wildavsky A (1984) Implementation: how great expectations in Washington are dashed in Oakland, 3rd edn. University of California Press, Los Angeles

    Google Scholar 

  42. Quick PJ (1981) Industry influence in federal regulatory agencies. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  43. Rabe BG (2003) Statehouse and greenhouse: the emerging politics of American climate change policy. Brookings Institute, Washington

    Google Scholar 

  44. Rabe BG (2010) Power to the states: the promise and pitfalls of decentralization. In: Vig NJ, Kraft ME (eds) Environmental policy: new directions for the twenty-first century, 6th edn. CQ Press, Washington, pp 34–56

    Google Scholar 

  45. Reiss A (1984) Selecting strategies of social control over organizational life. In: Hawkins K, Thomas J (eds) Enforcing regulation. Kluwer, Boston, pp 23–25

    Google Scholar 

  46. Riccucci NM (2005) How management matters: street-level bureaucrats and welfare reform. Georgetown University Press, Washington

    Google Scholar 

  47. Sandfort JR (2000) Moving beyond discretion and outcomes: examining public management from the front lines of the welfare system. J Public Admin Res Theory 10(4):729–756

    Google Scholar 

  48. Scheberle D (2004) Federalism and environmental policy: trust and the politics of implementation, 2nd edn. Georgetown University Press, Washington

    Google Scholar 

  49. Scholz JT (1994) Managing regulatory enforcement. In: Rosenbloom D, Schwartz RD (eds) Handbook of regulation and administrative law. Marcel Decker, New York, pp 423–463

    Google Scholar 

  50. Sheehan K (2001) E-mail survey response rates: a review. J Comp Media Comm 6:2

    Google Scholar 

  51. Sigman H (2003) Letting states do the dirty work: state responsibility for federal environmental regulation. National Tax J 56(1):107–122

    Google Scholar 

  52. Vogel D (1986) National styles of regulation: environmental policy in Great Britain and the United States. Cornell University Press, Ithaca

    Google Scholar 

  53. Waterman RW, Rouse AA, Wright RL (2004) Bureaucrats, politics, and the environment. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh

    Google Scholar 

  54. Wilson JQ (ed) (1980) The politics of regulation. Basic Books, Inc., New York

    Google Scholar 

  55. Wingfield B, Marcus M (2007) America’s greenest states. Forbes, October 17

  56. Yin RK (2003) Case study research: design and methods. Sage, Thousand Oaks

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sara R. Rinfret.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • Front-line regulators
  • Wisconsin
  • Ohio
  • OEPA
  • WI DNR
  • Environmental policy