Agricultural Elites, Special Interest Politics, and Deforestation: Property-Level Evidence from the Amazon
A guest lecture by Fanny Moffette of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
How do local leaders' personal and political incentives shape tropical deforestation and land use? We combine individually identified land cadasters for the Brazilian Amazon, registries of political candidates and campaign donors, and remote sensing data to construct a novel panel of land use change on properties belonging to municipal politicians and donors between 2000 and 2019. We estimate event studies around close mayoral elections and find that deforestation patterns remain unchanged on successful candidates’ properties while they are in office, as well as on the properties of their campaign donors. Concurrently, landholding mayors and their donors tend to expand lucrative soy production while reducing other agricultural land uses; these individualized benefits may be caused by a decreased likelihood of having environmental violations for mayors and improved access to agricultural credit for both mayors and donors.
Mayors who own land or receive donations from landowners may also govern differently, with potential municipality-level consequences. Preliminary results suggest that mayors' personal landholdings do not affect municipality-level environmental outcomes and governance, but that mayors' ties to agricultural special interests have large effects: close election of mayors who receive landholder-donations leads to increased deforestation, land conversion to agriculture, and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. These outcomes appear to be driven by increased municipal promotion of agriculture. Registration of environmental violations increases in these municipalities, suggesting that mayors do not provide political cover from federal environmental enforcement for landholders in their municipalities. Our findings contribute nuanced evidence of local political incentives and special interest influence over a core environmental outcome: tropical deforestation, with implications for debates over environmental federalism, special interest politics, and conservation policy.