Slippery business: Race, class, and legal determinants of penalties against petroleum refineries

Michael J. Lynch*, Paul B. Stretesky, Ronald G. Burns

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


This study examines whether petroleum refineries that violate environmental laws in Black, Hispanic, and low-income communities tend to receive smaller fines than those refineries in White and affluent communities. The sample consists of all petroleum refinery facilities fined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) between 1998 and 1999 for violating the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and/or the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (N = 60). The mean penalty for noncompliance is much lower in Black than in White census tracts ($108,563 vs. $341,590) and in low-income than in high-income census tracts ($259,784 vs. $334,267). Multivariate analysis suggests that these disparities are not due to factors such as the seriousness of violation, the number of past violations, the facility inspection history, the facility production, or the EPA region in which the violating refinery is situated. It is concluded that the government does a poor job of providing equal protection to racially and economically diverse communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-440
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Black Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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