The Policy and Geography of Environmental Risk

With David Konisky

Project Summary
In this NSF-funded project (2014-2018), we use a new approach to examine how the set of overlapping administrative, political and environmental problem boundaries shape a state regional office’s distribution of policy outputs and outcomes. We term this approach policy geography. We argue that policy geography can induce governance challenges, which can be exacerbated or mitigated by other institutional factors shaping decision-making. The results of this research has implications, not only for how we understand the origins of environmental risk patterns, but also for how we evaluate possible policy prescriptions aimed at mitigating unfavorable or uneven risk levels across society. Using newly-collected, fine-grained institutional data, we will utilize GIS software to map out each state’s regional office policy geography for implementation of both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. We then combine this information with facility-level data on policy outputs (government inspections and enforcement actions) and policy outcomes (compliance and pollution risks) to answer three broad sets of questions: Does state policy devolution enhance the responsiveness of regulatory field agents to local political stakeholders, and, if so, under what conditions?, to what extent does state policy devolution induce a coordination dilemma for environmental problems that intersect government jurisdictions?, does state policy devolution necessarily create within-state risk “hot spots,” thereby generating disproportionate risks for vulnerable (i.e., lower income and ethnic/racial minority) communities?

Can Courts be Bulwarks of Democracy? Judges and the Politics of Prudence

with Jeffery Staton and Jordan Holsinger

Project Summary
Independent judges are thought to promote regime survival by allowing perceived violations of rules limiting arbitrary power to be challenged in a fair setting. Empirical evidence generally supports this claim. Yet by asking judges to hold leaders accountable, systems of constitutional review can create political tensions. Judicial institutions are sometimes attacked, judges sometimes impeached, and judicial orders are sometimes ignored. These processes can undermine independence in a variety of ways. In this project, we argue that if courts are to encourage regime stability, they must do so by managing these conflictual political contexts. Political contexts in which judges believe that overt political attacks are probable are unlikely to meaningfully influence regime maintenance; however, judges can contribute to regime stability even in contexts in which their decisions are sometimes ignored. Non-compliance with judicial orders need not be a problem for a robust political system. Indeed, to impact regime stability, judges must be willing to risk being ignored. We evaluate empirical implications of this argument in a study of democratic and autocratic regime survival.