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Can Collective Action Institutions Outperform the State? Evidence from Treatment of Abandoned Mine Drainage


  • Harleman, Max
  • Weber, Jeremy G.


A core public administration literature seeks to understand whether decentralized collective action institutions will emerge to provide public goods, such as management of environmental resources. Few studies examine how they perform relative to the state at providing public goods, and they fail to account for the possibility that the state might self-select into providing public goods in the most challenging contexts. If it does, finding that the state performs worse than collective action institutions could reflect its more challenging context rather than differences in knowledge, skill, or motivation. We examine several quantitative measures of performance in remediating polluted water discharges from abandoned coal mines in Pennsylvania, a task sometimes done by the state and sometimes by nonprofit watershed associations. We find that the two types of institutions address discharges with generally similar water quality problems and build systems that yield similar initial improvements in water quality. But watershed association systems better maintain effectiveness at reducing acidity and removing heavy metals over time. The findings suggest a role for sustained public investment in collective action institutions to address complex and enduring environmental problems.

Suggested Citation

  • Harleman, Max & Weber, Jeremy G., 2023. "Can Collective Action Institutions Outperform the State? Evidence from Treatment of Abandoned Mine Drainage," MPRA Paper 119861, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:119861

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    More about this item


    collective action; abandoned mines; water quality; decentralization;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • H4 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics

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