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Public money and private interests: United States government contract awardees’ contribution to industrial pollution production


Point source emissions generated by facilities that have been awarded government contracts raise questions regarding the relationship between the State and industrial facilities, particularly when those facilities’ emissions are disproportionately high. While providing public goods or services, many facilities also produce harmful emissions and toxic waste. We examine whether government contract awardees differ in the amount of hazardous pollution they produce when compared to their non-awardee counterparts. Using facility information from permitted industrial facilities over 12 years, we examine whether awardees produce more pollution than counterpart facilities. We theorize this difference using Louis Althusser’s structural theory of power in which he contends that the State acts above all to reproduce itself through the reinforcement of its economic base and the ruling class. As an economic determinist whose theories heavily engage ideology as a mechanism of control, Althusser’s structural approach provides a framework for understanding the apparatuses and mechanisms through which the State works to maintain power. Through a comparative analysis between proportionate contribution to industrial releases by government contract awardees and non-awardees, we find that awardees contribute to disproportionality within and across industries. In addition, linear mixed model regression methods are used to test whether the associations observed are due to contract awardee status or other variables such as facility size and ownership. We theorize that the act of awarding contracts to the lowest bidder supports the State’s goals but also results in awards being won by facilities with higher pollution production than counterpart facilities within their industrial sector.

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The research presented in this paper was made possible in part by funding from the National Science Foundation grant number 1534976.

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Correspondence to Dustin T. Hill.

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Hill, D.T., Vidon, E.S. & Collins, M.B. Public money and private interests: United States government contract awardees’ contribution to industrial pollution production. J Environ Stud Sci 10, 213–225 (2020).

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  • Environmental disproportionality
  • Risk screening environmental indicators
  • Inequality
  • Industrial pollution
  • Ideology
  • Althusser