‘All policy is local': Punctuated Equilibrium Theory and the Politics of US Lead Regulation

Document Type




Format of Original

22 p.

Publication Date



Taylor & Francis (Routledge)

Source Publication

Environmental Politics

Source ISSN


Original Item ID

doi: 10.1080/09644016.2015.1049019


Substantial changes in US policy regarding lead are explored through a punctuated equilibrium theory-based consideration of scientific advance reflected in environmental policy. Despite the century-long presence of the US’s oldest lead processing plant in Herculaneum, Missouri, the extent of local contamination identified in the early 2000s surprised residents, industrial representatives, and environmental regulators alike. Conditions in Herculaneum revealed disparities between current understandings of health protection from lead exposure and potential hazards associated with local conditions. A substantial disconnection between developments in the scientific understanding of toxic substances and regulation to protect the community appropriately from identified threats inspired a punctuation in the regulatory framework for managing lead contamination. Analysis of policy change in Herculaneum provides the basis to extend punctuated equilibrium theory in environmental policy contexts to incorporate scientific advances.


Environmental Politics, Vol. 24, No. 5 (September 2015): 681-702. DOI.