Penalty Functions for Environmental Violations: Evidence from Water Quality Enforcement1

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Abstract

We empirically estimate a penalty function for water quality violations of private firms in Georgia. We find that seriousness of infraction and historical compliance records strongly influence penalty levels, while the intentionality of violations and the method of discovery do not. The size of the polluting company is also an important determinant of financial penalties. Overall the results support the plausibility of modeling assumptions used in much the theoretical enforcement literature but indicate the need for caution in interpreting models that assume penalty amounts are invariant to violation characteristics.

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