Public Incentives, Market Motivations, and Contaminated Properties: New Public Management and Brownfield Liability Reform

Published date01 March 2015
Date01 March 2015
Adam Eckerd is assistant professor in
the Center for Public Administration and
Policy at Virginia Tech, where he conducts
research on the complex relationship
between government decisions and social
outcomes, particularly with respect to
environmental justice, public participation,
and nonprof‌i t organizations. He holds a
doctorate from the John Glenn School of
Public Affairs at The Ohio State University.
Roy L. Heidelberg is assistant professor
in the Public Administration Institute at
Louisiana State University. His research
focuses on power and accountability in
administrative contexts. He holds a doctor-
ate from the John Glenn School of Public
Affairs at The Ohio State University.
252 Public Administration Review • March | April 2015
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 75, Iss. 2, pp. 252–261. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12305.
Adam Eckerd
Virginia Tech
Roy L. Heidelberg
Louisiana State University
Public policies are often shaped by prominent
public management frameworks or designed
with particular management frameworks in
mind (May and Winter 2009). In the 1980s and
1990s, the focus of environmental policy shifted to
concentrate less on regulation and enforcement and
more on incentives and legal protection (Jaf‌f e et al.
1995).  e timing of this change coincided (perhaps
not coincidentally) with the rise of the New Public
Management (NPM) (Hood 1991), and the various
ef‌f orts to motivate private involvement with con-
taminated site remediation and redevelopment align
closely with NPM principles. Essential to NPM is the
use of incentives as a policy instrument to engage pri-
vate sector f‌i rms as partners, a focus that functionally
replaces regulation (DeLeon and Denhardt 2000).
e federal ef‌f orts to address contaminated sites
through liability reform are an excellent example:
regulation is restricted so that incentives can be made
more ef‌f ective and the power of the market can be lev-
eraged. Our primary interest is in the extent to which
various liability reform and incentive policies spur
private sector involvement in site remediation. In line
with NPM expectations, developers have indicated
that their involvement in cleanup activities would
increase with protections from liability (Wernstedt,
Meyer, and Alberini 2006), similar to those imple-
mented through amendments to the Comprehensive
Environmental Response, Compensation, and
Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) in 2002.  e 2002
amendments are situated under a dif‌f erent managerial
logic than the 1980 law. While the regulatory focus
of the 1980 law implies a managerial approach of
direct implementation to balance various priorities,
the market-oriented focus of the 2002 amendments
emphasizes getting incentives right and a more indi-
rect approach to f‌i nal outcomes.
We address three main research questions through an
evaluation of data from the Brownf‌i eld Assessment
Grant Program of the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA). A hallmark of NPM is
a results-oriented focus and engagement with the
Public Incentives, Market Motivations, and Contaminated
Properties: New Public Management and Brownf‌i eld
Liability Reform
Abstract: Brownf‌i elds pose challenges to both communities and policy makers. Public funds are insuf‌f‌i cient to remedi-
ate these contaminated sites, but, given the uncertainty of contamination and the complexity of liability, private
interests are reluctant to become involved for fear of future litigation. From a New Public Management perspective,
market incentives can be used to encourage private sector remediation of sites. However, this change implies a shift
in administrative function from regulation to “getting the incentives right.” In this research, the authors investigate
whether state and federal reforms aimed at increasing private sector involvement have actually done so, and they con-
sider the implications for other goals of brownf‌i eld remediation, such as providing economic development assistance in
communities where such change is needed. Findings show that developers respond to insurance and tax incentives, but
the authors question whether public incentives are making unattractive redevelopment opportunities worth investing
in or simply making prof‌i table redevelopment opportunities more prof‌i table.
Practitioner Points
Practitioners involved in brownf‌i eld remediation must try to distinguish between incentivizing already
attractive projects and encouraging remediation of projects that would otherwise be neglected.
• A hands-of‌f approach to steering brownf‌i eld remediation may not adequately address the uncertainty intrin-
sic to remediation, even with promises of liability protection.
Focusing resources on spurring private sector involvement will necessarily prioritize economic development
over health and equity considerations.
Governments may need to take a more balanced approach to brownf‌i eld remediation by taking ownership of
and planning for redevelopment in communities where private sector involvement is less likely.

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