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Accidents Waiting to Happen: Liability Policy and Toxic Pollution Releases

  • Austin, David
  • Alberini, Anna

Proponents of environmental policies based on liability assert that strict liability imposed on the polluter will induce firms to handle hazardous wastes properly and to avoid disposing them into the environment. Economic theory and a few well-publicized cases, however, suggest that a number of factors may dilute the incentives posed by strict liability. In this paper, the authors run regressions relating unintended releases of pollution into the environment (aggregated at the state level, and followed over nine years from 1987 to 1995) to the imposition of strict liability on the polluter, exploiting variation across states in the liability provisions of their mini-Superfund laws, and in the years these were adopted. The authors experiment with instrumental variable estimation, fixed effects, and endogenous switching, and find that only after they explicitly model the endogeneity of states' liability laws is strict liability seen as reducing the seriousness of spills and releases. They also find evidence consistent with the notion that under strict liability, firms may spin off into, or delegate riskier production processes to, smaller firms, which are partially sheltered from liability. This tendency appears to be widespread.

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Paper provided by Resources For the Future in its series Discussion Papers with number dp-99-29.

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Date of creation: 01 Mar 1999
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Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-99-29
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  1. Austin, David & Alberini, Anna, 1997. "On and Off the Liability Bandwagon: Explaining State Adoptions of Strict Liability in Hazardous Waste Programs," Discussion Papers dp-98-08, Resources For the Future.
  2. Boyd, James, 1996. "Banking on "Green Money:" Are Environmental Financial Responsibility Rules Fulfilling Their Promise?," Discussion Papers dp-96-26, Resources For the Future.
  3. Jerry A. Hausman & Bronwyn H. Hall & Zvi Griliches, 1984. "Econometric Models for Count Data with an Application to the Patents-R&D Relationship," NBER Technical Working Papers 0017, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Arik Levinson, 1997. "NIMBY Taxes Matter: State Taxes and Interstate Hazardous Waste Shipments," NBER Working Papers 6314, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Cropper, Maureen L. & William N. Evans & Stephen J. Berard & Maria M. Ducla-Soares & Paul R. Portney, 1992. "The Determinants of Pesticide Regulation: A Statistical Analysis of EPA Decision Making," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(1), pages 175-97, February.
  6. T. Randolph Beard, 1990. "Bankruptcy and Care Choice," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(4), pages 626-634, Winter.
  7. Alberini, Anna & Austin, David H., 1999. "Strict Liability as a Deterrent in Toxic Waste Management: Empirical Evidence from Accident and Spill Data," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 20-48, July.
  8. Pitchford, Rohan, 1995. "How Liable Should a Lender Be? The Case of Judgment-Proof Firms and Environmental Risk," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(5), pages 1171-86, December.
  9. Tom H. Tietenberg, 1989. "Indivisible Toxic Torts: The Economics of Joint and Several Liability," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 65(4), pages 305-319.
  10. Timothy Besley & Anne Case, 1994. "Unnatural Experiments? Estimating the Incidence of Endogenous Policies," NBER Working Papers 4956, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Titman, Sheridan & Wessels, Roberto, 1988. " The Determinants of Capital Structure Choice," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 43(1), pages 1-19, March.
  12. Murphy, Kevin M & Topel, Robert H, 1985. "Estimation and Inference in Two-Step Econometric Models," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 3(4), pages 370-79, October.
  13. Ringleb, Al H & Wiggins, Steven N, 1990. "Liability and Large-Scale, Long-term Hazards," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(3), pages 574-95, June.
  14. Hilary Sigman, 1998. "Midnight Dumping: Public Policies and Illegal Disposal of Used Oil," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 29(1), pages 157-178, Spring.
  15. Johnson, Shane A., 1997. "An Empirical Analysis of the Determinants of Corporate Debt Ownership Structure," Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(01), pages 47-69, March.
  16. Ulph, Alistair & Valentini, Laura, 2000. "Environmental liability and the capital structure of firms," Discussion Paper Series In Economics And Econometrics 0036, Economics Division, School of Social Sciences, University of Southampton.
  17. Shreekant Gupta & George Van Houtven & Maureen Cropper, 1996. "Paying for Permanence: An Economic Analysis of EPA's Cleanup Decisions at Superfund Sites," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 27(3), pages 563-582, Autumn.
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