The more financial support a state has to enforce environmental protection laws, the more effective enforcement can be. In order to better track the success of enforcement, however, states should be required to report both expenditures and other measures of environmental health to the Environmental Protection Agency, argues Victor Flatt, Thomas F. and Elizabeth Taft Distinguished Professor in Environmental Law and director of the Center for Law, Environment, Adaptation and Resources (CLEAR) at UNC School of Law.
Flatt brings his expertise in this area to a panel discussion of environmental law on April 15, 2011, to which members of Congress, their staff, and the general public have been invited. His participation in the panel comes as a result of his authorship of "Environmental Enforcement in Dire Straits: There is No Protection for Nothing and No Data For Free." In the article, Flatt examines data from 17 states, analyzing the correlation between environmental program expenditures and the effectiveness of environmental law enforcement in the program's area.
Flatt's panel discussion is the third in the day-long Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review, organized and hosted by the Environmental Law Institute and Vanderbilt University Law School. The program features three articles with additional commentary from the public and private sector.
Flatt's article's findings highlight the need for more uniform data reporting and funding for effective enforcement. "The first thing I would want to ask of Congress, based on our research, is to fund the [Environmental Protection Agency] so that it can fully enforce its environmental mandate. Without adequate funding, it cannot ensure sound enforcement from every state, and it cannot take over the job itself. The second is to require states to report all their spending and enforcement in a uniform manner," says Flatt, who spent several years tracking down all the data necessary to assess the impact of environmental law enforcement at the state level.
Flatt acknowledges the difficulty of asking for more money when state and federal budgets are tight. However, he says there is always an opportunity to regain some of the cost of enforcement through fines and permit costs. Additionally, some states contend that a large enforcement bureau can attract business to the state by making compliance much smoother for the industry.
Flatt's article was published in 2010 in the Notre Dame Law Review. His data collection motivated the EPA to look at their own data collection and storage practices, concluding that their data collection process is not sufficient in some areas.
And while data collection may not be the most attractive aspect of environmental law, Flatt argues that it is essential.
"By using all data associated with regulated sources, we were able to compare like for like, and I think we developed something important. At least with the Clean Air Act we were able to show that spending less money meant less environmental compliance," he says. "We need better data collection so that we can better analyze and use the results to improve our enforcement and, thus, the effectiveness of environmental laws."
-March 30, 2011