Discussion Paper

Strategic Release of News at the EPA

Oct 26, 2011 | Lucija Anna Muehlenbachs, Elisabeth Newcomb Sinha, Nitish Ranjan Sinha

Abstract

Using advances in text analysis, we examine the content and timing of21,493 press releases issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) between 1994 and 2009. Press releases announcing enforcement actions or regulatory changes were issued more often on Fridays and before holidays, a time when news has the least impact on media coverage and financial markets. Changing the timing of press releases may increase deterrence through awareness of regulation and market reaction to environmental news. We find no evidence of regulatory capture. We compare text analysis techniques that allow data collection from sources previously too expensive to access.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) often publicizes enforcement actions, fines, lawsuit settlements, and changes to environmental regulations with media releases. In addition to providing a deterrent for future environmental transgressors, media releases work by promoting awareness of regulatory action. Given the intended goal of increasing awareness, it would seem that EPA would make such announcements at times that ensure the largest audience draw. However, new research suggests that this may not be the case.

After examining the content and timing of more than 21,000 press releases issued by EPA between 1994 and 2009, RFF Fellow Lucija Muehlenbachs and coauthors Elisabeth Newcomb Sinha and Nitish Ranjan Sinha found press releases announcing enforcement actions or regulatory changes were issued more often on Fridays and before holidays, a time when news has the least impact on media coverage and financial markets.

In “Strategic Release of News at the EPA” the authors maintain that changing the timing of press releases may increase deterrence through increased public awareness of regulation and market reaction to environmental news. For maximum effect, announcements of violations should occur early in the week, rather than on Fridays, when there is likely less scrutiny from both the public and the media.