On October 31, 2023 as part of our Open Seminar Series, Dr. Max Harleman from Georgia College & State University presented an early draft of his paper entitled Can Collective Action Institutions Outperform the State? Evidence from Treatment of Acid Mine Drainage. The paper is motivated by the fact that relatively few studies examine how collective action institutions perform relative to the state at providing public goods, and they fail to account for the possibility that the state might self-select into providing public goods in the most challenging contexts. If this were the case, finding that the state performs worse than collective institutions could reflect its more challenging context rather than differences in knowledge, skill, or motivation.
With Dr. Jeremy Weber (University of Pittsburgh), Dr. Harleman examines several quantitative measures of performance in remediating polluted water discharges from abandoned coal mines in Pennsylvania, a task sometimes done by the state and sometimes by private watershed associations. Initial evidence suggests that the two types of entities address discharges with generally similar water quality problems and build systems that yield similar initial improvements in water quality. The state systems, however, better maintain effectiveness at reducing acidity and removing heavy metals over time. Their findings suggest a role for decentralized responses to widespread environmental problems, but that on-going public financial support is necessary for preserving environmental gains.