Review by Sean Nolon, Vermont Law School

Joel Mintz’s work offers fascinating insights into changing approaches to environmental law enforcement in recent decades.

Enforcement at the EPA: High Stakes and Hard Choices, by Joel A Mintz, University of Texas Press, 323pp

This book presents a fascinating historical account of how EPA’s approach to enforcing environmental laws has changed over the last forty years. Fortunately, this book has many moments where the author brings a potentially dry topic alive through the use of quotes and personal accounts from agency insiders.  Professor Mintz has written an enjoyable and informative volume that follows in the tradition of great qualitative research such as Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

This work is the product of many years of research and the author’s passion to make sense out of the tangled path that EPA has followed since being created by President Nixon in the 1970s. Professor Mintz reviewed EPA enforcement policy documents from 1970–2009 and interviewed over 190 present and former government officials. This behind-the-scenes presentation of how presidents from Carter to Bush II affect enforcement at the EPA is fascinating. Some of the highlights addressed are: EPA’s style of enforcement over the years; the effect of congressional oversight, including decentralized committees and budget authority on EPA’s ability to enforce; the relationship of political appointees to agency staff under different administrations; the decline of agency effectiveness in recent years; and an exploration of the threat and reality of agency “capture.”

By giving a thorough historical account of enforcement at EPA, readers will see more detail of the shadow under which many environmental negotiations take place. Readers with an interest in environmental regulation and those who enjoy the evolution of institutions and how they respond to changes in society will enjoy this volume.

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