Monitoring environmental standards : do local conditions matter?
Economists have criticized regulations that impose uniform environmental standards on plants that may face different marginal abatement costs and damage functions. Such critics ignore the difference in standard implementation across plants, giving rise to nonuniform standards. The authors analyze what determines the regulators'monitoring activities and what factors explain their decision to inspect a plant's environmental performance. They find that regulators are sensitive to local environmental damages and allocate inspection efforts to plants whose emissions are likely to generate more damage. Although national standards are uniform, implementation is a function of local conditions. Local monitoring and enforcement of national standards effectively determines the local price of pollution. Ignoring the tradeoffs taking place locally could undermine and render ineffective national regulatory and policy reform. This supports the public interest theory of regulation, which views the regulator as an agent whose objective is to maximize social welfare. The authors also show that the regulator's behavior is a function of variables not directly related to abatement cost and damages. In particular, conditions in the local labor market affect the regulator's monitoring strategy choice. This lends support to the economic theory of regulation, which views regulators as agents whose behavior can best be explained by assuming that they seek to maximize their political support.
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