Certainty of Punishment versus Severity of Punishment: Enforcement of Environmental Protection Laws

Dietrich Earnhart and Lana Friesen


According to the standard enforcement model, the key deterrence components are punishment certainty and severity. While theory predicts the relative efficacy of certainty versus severity, empirical and experimental evidence are mixed. Our study represents the first to systematically compare the effects of certainty and severity in the environmental protection context. Our empirics examine wastewater discharged by chemical manufacturing facilities permitted under the Clean Water Act. We find that, when enforcement certainty and severity are high, both components effectively deter pollution, with certainty more effective. In contrast, certainty and severity increases prove counter-productive when certainty and severity are low.

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