The impact of federal court decisions on the policies and administration of the United States Environmental Protection Agency

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration


David Rosenbloom


Judge as administrator, External control of organizations, Law, Response by EPA, Policy

Subject Categories

Public Administration


This work is the first comprehensive analysis of the impact of federal court decisions on the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in all seven of its major statutory areas. Theories of "judge as administrator" and "the external control of organizations" were applied to EPA cases.

The work found first, that judicial intervention into disputes concerning the EPA fall into five groups: (1) cases in which the mere filing of a lawsuit, without judicial action, has evoked a change in the EPA; (2) cases in which courts have upheld the agency's position completely without yielding changes in the agency; (3) cases in which judges, who have been passive and unwilling to intervene in the affairs of the EPA have issued decisions that nonetheless have affected the agency's policies and administration; (4) cases in which judges have legitimately used their discretionary powers to affect agency actions; and (5) cases in which judges have gone beyond the normal limits of judicial activism to evoke change in the agency.

Second, the dissertation analyzed the ten ways that the EPA has responded to federal court decisions: (1) implementing the court after attempting to buffer or level it, (2) creating internal integrative mechanisms, (3) interpreting outcomes as satisfying demands, (4) not possessing the capacity to comply with demands, (5) altering its "products" to adapt to the external pressure, (6) curbing access to information, (7) playing one group off against another, (8) sequentially attending to demands, (9) implementing the order in a fashion not anticipated by the court, and (10) engaging in post judgment power plays.

Third, the dissertation found that the major impact of federal court decisions on the EPA has been policy related. Compliance with court orders has become the agency's top priority, overtaking congressional mandates and threatening representative democracy.

Finally, the dissertation found that federal court decisions have affected the administration of the EPA in five ways. Court decisions have: (1) prompted a redistribution of budgetary and staff resources within the EPA, (2) reduced the discretion and autonomy of EPA administrators as a whole, (3) increased the power of the EPA legal staff, (4) decreased the power and authority of EPA scientists, and (5) selectively empowered certain organizational units within the EPA.


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