Big field, small potatoes: An empirical assessment of EPA's self-audit policy
Environmental self-auditing by private firms is generally thought to both deserve and require encouragement. Firms can audit themselves more cheaply and effectively than can regulators, but too often are deterred for fear that the information they uncover will be used against them. To reduce this disincentive, the EPA's "Audit Policy" lowers punitive fines when firms promptly disclose and correct violations that they themselves discover. While some contend that the Audit Policy is inadequate, EPA touts its success, presenting as evidence the policy's track record to date. Yet our examination of that track record leads us to question EPA's conclusions. While the policy appears to have encouraged firms to self-audit in a number of instances, a comparison of the violations uncovered in these cases with those detected by standard enforcement practices suggests that the typical self-audited violation is relatively minor. For instance, cases arising under the Audit Policy are more likely to concern reporting violations, rather than emissions. The relative insignificance of self-audited violations raises a number of broader policy questions, including whether the Audit Policy could and should be revised to play a larger role in regulatory enforcement.
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