Pollution Prevention Act and Pollution prevention
In 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was given the responsibility of implementing the new Pollution Prevention Act (PPA) of 1990 which had at its cornerstone the reduction of pollution at the source. Pollution prevention (P2) is defined as the reduction or elimination of waste at the source. Source reduction is sought by four means; “modifying production processes, promoting the use of non-toxic or less toxic substances, implementing conservation techniques, and reusing materials rather than putting them into the waste stream” (EPA, 2017). The emphasis on prevention of pollution was a shift from the previous focus on clean-up and served to derail the legitimacy of pollution productions (Burnett, 1998).
While P2 can be applied across a variety of sectors, spanning agriculture, industry, education and even home use, getting these industries to pivot to prevention from abatement is no small feat. Despite the challenges, P2 efforts “have not only led to environmental improvement but have been cost-effective, saving millions of dollars per year” (NPPR, 2003). One of the biggest obstacles to the success of the P2 Act of 1990 is the lack of systematic, cohesive measurements to determine which programs are working and how they stack up against each other. However, before we get to determine successes, we’d still to get a P2 program implemented and according to Burnett there several barriers to doing so and they include:
- Lack of statutory structure
- Existing relationships between EPA and the groups it regulates
- The fragmented implementation scheme
- Balancing the conflicting demands advanced by powerful interests
- Real or perceived economic impacts and technical hurdles
- Institutional inertia
The lack of the statutory structure that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employs to assure compliance with various mandates, identified by the “absence of substantive standards, mandatory time frames for source reduction, and command and-control enforcement authority” (Burnett, 1998). Even with a statutory structure in place, the existing relationships between EPA and the groups it regulates may result in conflict especially if the application of command and control varies by subordinate group and area of environmental concern and the implementation scheme was fragmented as well. As Burnett notes, this “fragmented system creates a regulatory structure susceptible to disputes over agency professional values and jurisdictional boundaries,” and a host of other concerns (1998).
One of larger issues to implementation seems to be the EPA’s ability to institute regulations while balancing the conflicting demands from varying entities. How do they juggle the needs of the federal government, against state specific requirements and the demands of dissimilar industries? Moving to P2 from pollution control presents real or perceived economic impacts and technical hurdles that must be addressed. For example, in order to comply with the PPA, an agency that supplies energy may need to go from scrubbers in the stacks that clean the air of sulfur from burning coal to a whole new way of processing the coal to lower the generation of pollutants. The agency may have years left on the balance sheet to depreciate the initial costs of the scrubbers but now they have to invest in new equipment and training, an endeavor which many would balk at (due to the costs).
The last barrier that can impede implementation of the PPA is institutional inertia on the part of the EPA. Organizations, especially large ones over get bogged down by their own rules and ways of doing things that change, even change they spearhead can be difficult to implement. However, there is a solution for every barrier, a way to remove every obstacle that would hamper the implementation of the PPA. Putting the PPA into place and ensuring immediate compliance may have been as simple as including P2 standards, time frames for source reduction and identifying the ultimate authority(ies) for carrying out the statutes upon the issuance of the PPA or shortly thereafter. It’s not enough to identify a problem (pollution) and say we’re going to fix it with a specific solution (P2), one must also identify the steps to take and tools to use to affect the necessary outcome.
Easing the conflict between EPA and the groups it regulates could be done by applying the same type of command and control over various subordinate groups as well as the commensurate application of the rules over disparate areas of environmental concern with a structured implementation scheme. An example of this in action is the requirement for documentation in the form of Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) when a governmental agency undertakes a project that can untoward consequences for the environment. Similarly, P2 implementation can have a standard documentation that an agency and/or company prepares of not only what is going to be done, but how it will impact other entities and mitigation strategies if prevention is going to be limited in scope.
A solution for the possible barrier of economic impacts and technical hurdles is to allow the companies/agencies/industries time which to effect changes. Examine what is realistic in terms of available technology and what is best overall with regards to pollution reduction and issue a statute which addresses those items. While these impacts and hurdles have an individual resolution, the problem of institutional inertia requires a shift in how a large body approaches problem. The upper echelons of the organization need to be enthusiastic about the changes and model ways of adopting new regulations. Additionally, management could provide trading to the worker's role playing how to adopt new rules and the procedures for carrying out the new regulations.