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Voluntary Environmental Regulation: Effectiveness, Participation, and Democratic Values

posted on 2023-09-07, 05:05 authored by Derek D. Swick

Over the last decade, voluntary approaches to environmental regulation increasingly have been employed to achieve environmental goals. In the instance of Voluntary Environmental Programs (VEPs), firms adopt environmental policies that go above and beyond the law's stipulations. Voluntary approaches range from industry regulating itself to industry agreeing to standards than have been developed by the regulator. Focusing on industry self-regulation, this research explores why firms/facilities in the petroleum industry join VEPs and finds that facility size, environmental emission intensity, environmental interest group membership, and socioeconomic factors are key determinants of the firm's/facility's participation decision calculus. Looking at VEP effectiveness, this research explores the effectiveness of the American Chemistry Council's (ACC) Responsible Care Program and the American Petroleum Institute's (API) Environmental, Health and Safety Mission and Guiding Principles Program, where effectiveness is defined as a reduction in facility reported toxicity-weighed environmental emissions to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program. In both voluntary Programs, Program participants fail to reduce toxicity-weighed emissions compared to non-participants, notwithstanding ACC and API may support more accurate reporting for member facilities to EPA's TRI Program. The results suggest that the opportunistic behavior by the individual firm leads to adverse selection and moral hazard and thereby ruins the petroleum industry's attempts at coordinated action. Nonetheless, with one research methodology, I find that ACC's Program (i.e., a "strong swords" program) is more effective in limiting the increase in toxicity-weighed emissions compared to the API Program (i.e., a "zero swords" program). This key finding supports the assertion that swords matter (e.g., program characteristics) in voluntary program design and implementation. Finally, this dissertation presents a normative discussion on the importance of (1) designing and implementing VEPs to promote and advance democratic values and (2) considering such values in analysis of the effectiveness of VEPs. This research informs the future development, implementation, and evaluation of VEPs. With a more complete understanding of the linkage between VEP design and effectiveness, better private sector self-regulation and also public sector regulation will emerge.





Degree awarded: Ph.D. Public Administration and Policy. American University.; Electronic thesis available to American University authorized users only, per author's request.


Degree grantor

American University. School of Public Policy

Degree level

  • Doctoral

Submission ID