Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Sherry Cable

Committee Members

Jon Shefner, R. Scott Frey


Environmental policies are designed to be governmental attempts to change social behaviors that have negative environmental consequences; they are intended to protect natural resources and the interests of U.S. citizens. However, the reality of policy enforcement rarely reflects these goals. Research shows that enforcement is often unequal, more stringent in some areas and weaker in others. The resulting environmental injustices are the manifestation of political interference and organizational impediments in the policy process. Most environmental policy analyses focus on the macro, federal-level of policy. In doing so, they neglect the final, crucial step in which policy is made real – enforcement. This thesis addresses the gaps in environmental policy research by studying the street-level bureaucrats who enforce the Clean Water Act (CWA), exploring the experiences of individual local regulators who write permits, run programs, and perform inspections. I engaged in ethnographic research to examine compliance enforcement at state and local levels. The data came from interviews and observations completed in the spring of 2011 with street-level environmental regulators in the Division of Water Quality in the Knoxville Field Office of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Through this case study I draw connections among the experiences of street-level regulators, the politics of environmental policy, the problematic bureaucratic structure of public agencies, and the failures of environmental policies.

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