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Big Field, Small Potatoes: an empirical assessment of EPA’s Self-Audit Policy

Alexander Pfaff, Chris William Sanchirico
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (2004) volume 23 number 3: 415–432

PDF link iconEnvironmental self-auditing is said to deserve and require encouragement. Although firms can audit themselves more cheaply and effectively than regulators, they are deterred for fear that information they uncover will be used against them. To reduce this disincentive, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Audit Policy lowers punitive fines when firms promptly disclose and correct self-discovered violations. While some contend that the Audit Policy is inadequate, EPA touts its success based on the policy’s track record. Our examination of that track record leads us to question EPA’s claim. Comparing the violations in these cases with those detected by standard EPA enforcement suggests that the typical self-audited violation is relatively minor. Cases arising under the Policy are more likely to concern reporting violations and less likely to concern emissions. The relative insignificance of self-audited violations raises a number of policy questions, including whether the Audit Policy should be revised to play a larger role in enforcement.

 

Environmental Self-Auditing: setting the proper incentives for discovery and correction of environmental harm

Alexander Pfaff, Chris William Sanchirico
Journal of Law, Economics & Organization (2000) volume 16 number 1: 189-208.

PDF link iconMany firms conduct “environmental audits” to test compliance with a complex array of environmental regulations. Commentators suggest, however, that self-auditing is not as common as it should be, because firms fear that what they find will be used against them. This article analyzes self-auditing as a two-tiered incentive problem involving incentives both to test for and to effect compliance. After demonstrating the inadequacy of conventional remedies, we show that incentives can be properly aligned by conditioning fines on firms’ investigative effort. In practice, however, the regulator may not be able to observe such effort. Accordingly, we propose and evaluate the use of three observable proxies for self-investigation: the manner in which the regulator detected the violation; the firm’s own disclosure of violations; and the firm’s observed corrective actions. Each method has its own efficiency benefits and informational requirements, and each is distinct from EPA’s current audit policy.