Environmental Regulation

EPA– created in 1970 to coordinate most of the gov’s efforts to protect the environment; Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) helped as well. Their major regulation areas are air, water, land pollution.

air pollution– occurs when more pollutants are emitted into the atmosphere than can be safely absorbed and diluted by natural processes; natural pollution comes from smoke and ash from volcanoes, and forest fires; ½ population breathes unsafe air for part of each yr; 70% of cancer risk comes from diesel exhaust; 6 pollutants: lead, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and ozone (called smog at ground level); other toxic air pollutants: asbestos, benzene, chloroform, dioxin, vinyl, chloride, radio active materials

acid rain– formed when emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (from burning fossil fuels used in utilities, manufacturers, vehicles) combines w/ natural water vapor in the air and falls to Earth as rain or snow that is abnormally acidic; reduces crop yields, damages ecosystems of lakes and rivers, and degrades forests; can damage things 100s of miles away from the source; Clean Air Act 1970 and amended in 1990.

water pollution– occurs when more wastes are dumped into waterways than can be naturally diluted and carried away; comes from organic wastes (untreated sewage or manure), chemical by-products from industrial processes, and by disposal of non-biodegradable products (don’t decay naturally); heavy metals and toxic chemicals hurt too; E coli bacteria contaminated public water supply in Ontario; Water Pollution Control Act/Clean Water Act (requires permits for most point sources of pollution, and develops plans for non-point sources, like agricultural runoff or urban storm water

land pollution– contamination by both hazardous and solid waste; Germany’s made most progress in fixing this (recycles 70% of plastic waste); Toxic Substances Control Act requires EPA to inventory industrial chemicals and restrict certain ones (ex: PCBs come from electrical transformers); Resource Conservation Act of 1976 amended in 1984 regulates hazardous materials from cradle to grave; environmental justice– prevent inequitable exposure to risk (some permits discriminated against minorities by dumping waste near them)

source reduction– aims to reduce pollution at source rather than treat/dispose at end of the pipe (from Pollution Prevention Act of 1990)

laws to clean up hazardous waste– Comprehensive Environmental Response/Compensation/Liability Act (CERCLA); passed Superfund– from tax on petroleum and chemical companies that created too much toxic waste; used to clean up EPA’s national priority list of spots to clean up; 25% US residents live near a Superfund site; only 309 sites have been cleaned (1/5 of total- probably $1 trillion to fix and would take 50 yrs)

Policy Approaches:

environmental standards– standard. allowable level of various pollutants; called command/control regulation because government controls business choice of technology w/ standards (ex: environmental quality standard, emission standard); advantage- enforceable in court, compliance required; disadvantage- standards not relevant for all business, large reg. agency, slows innovation, shut old plants, fines cheaper than compliance, no improvement when compliance achieved

market based mechanisms- market controls standards; tradable permits- companies w/ excess room for pollution under standards could sell their extra room to other companies; advantage-business flexibility, low cost to achieve goals, saves jobs by not closing inefficient plants, permits allowances, encourage continued improvement; disadvantage- gives business license to pollute, allowances hard to set, may cause regional imbalances of pollution, enforcement difficult, eco-tax/emissions charges- depend on how much pollution u make; advantage- tax bad behavior (pollution instead of profits); disadvantage- fees hard to set, taxes may be too low to curb pollution; government incentives: advantage- reward environmentally responsible behavior, encourages business to exceed minimum standards; disadvantage- incentive may not be strong enough to curb pollution; in UK, eco-tax for miles flown in airplane

info disclosure– regulation by publicity/embarrassment- SARA amendment to Superfund created Community Right to Know law- had to report hazards to people nearby; advantage- government spends little on enforcement, companies able to reduce pollution in most cost-effective way; disadvantage- doesn’t motivate all businesses.

civil/criminal enforcement– civil penalties, fines, prison; advantage- may deter wrongdoing; disadvantage- may not deter wrongdoing if penalties and enforcement efforts are seen as weak

costs- $160 billion a yr spent by business and ppl, job loss in polluting industries, competitiveness of capital-intensive dirty industries impaired

benefits- emissions have dropped since 1970, air and water quality improved, improved health, growth of environmental products/services, tourism, and fishing

stages of responsibility- (1) pollution prevention and (2) product stewardship

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