Environmental Protection Agency

Recommendations and Actions

EPA03: Shift EPA's Emphasis Toward Pollution Prevention and Away From Pollution Control


The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 establishes a bold national objective for environmental protection: "[T]hat pollution should be prevented or reduced at the source whenever feasible."(1) The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Science Advisory Board has strongly recommended that pollution prevention be emphasized as the preferred means of reducing risk, explaining, "Preventing pollution at the source through the redesign of production processes, the substitution of less toxic production materials, the screening of new chemicals and technologies before they are introduced into commerce, energy and water conservation, the development of less polluting transportation systems and farming practices, etc. is usually a far cheaper, more effective way to reduce environmental risk, especially over the long term."(2)

EPA has defined pollution prevention as source reduction (reducing pollution at its source by shifting to the use of materials, processes, or practices that reduce or eliminate the creation of pollutants or wastes), as well as to mean protecting natural resources through conservation or increased efficiency in the use of energy, water, or other raw materials. Pollution prevention is not the only strategy for reducing risk; rather, it is the preferred one. Environmentally sound recycling shares many of the advantages of prevention it can reduce the need for treatment or disposal and conserve energy and natural resources. Where prevention or recycling are not feasible, treatment followed by safe disposal as a last resort will play an important role in achieving environmental goals.

When EPA was created in 1970, it focused first on controlling and cleaning up the most immediate environmental problems. Those efforts have yielded major reductions in pollution. Over time, however, analysis has shown that traditional end-of-pipe approaches not only can be expensive and less than fully effective, but sometimes transfer pollution from one medium to another (for example, from water to air).

Preventing pollution also offers important economic benefits, as pollution that is never created avoids the need for expensive investments in waste management or cleanup. For example, an environmental research group, INFORM, Inc., found in its study of 29 chemical plants that 15 percent of the 181 source-reduction activities identified resulted in annual dollar savings of $1 million or more.(3) Nearly half saved between $45,000 and $1 million annually, and more than one quarter saved between $6,000 and $45,000 each year. Only one out of all 181 source- reduction activities documented reported a net cost increase. Thus, this study suggests that pollution prevention has the potential for both protecting the environment and strengthening economic growth through more efficient manufacturing and raw material use.

An effective pollution prevention strategy must reflect the complex and multiple array of factors that motivate the private sector to invest in cleaner, less polluting technologies and practices. These factors include regulations and compliance, state and local partnerships, private partnerships, federal partnerships, public information and the right to know, and technological innovation.

Regulations and compliance play an integral part in preventing pollution. A report by INFORM, Inc., documented the critical role that both existing and anticipated future regulations play in providing an incentive to eliminate waste at the source. Federal and state experience with multi-media inspections and enforcement settlements demonstrate that effective compliance strategies can accelerate the introduction of new technologies. The recent decision to reorganize the Office of Enforcement creates major opportunities to focus on multi-media compliance goals.(4)

EPA regulations, permits, inspections, and enforcement


need better coordination to minimize the cross-media transfer of waste and to more effectively reduce waste at the source. The Source Reduction Review Project, through which EPA is attempting to coordinate different rules affecting 17 key industrial categories, is a good start. Regulations and compliance strategies must focus on the whole facility, rather than individual environmental problems.

State and local partnerships will be an important factor in determining the success of pollution prevention. Increasingly, state and local governments are the face of government to the general public. States have also proved to be excellent sources of innovation, promoting pollution prevention through both compliance and technical assistance programs. For example, the State of Massachusetts won a national award from the Ford Foundation for the Blackstone project, which combines multi-media inspections with effective delivery of technical information to industries trying to find cost-effective methods of compliance.

EPA disburses approximately $600 million per year in grants to states that have been charged with implementing federal law under authority delegated by EPA. It is critical that EPA follow up on its existing commitment to provide states with flexibility to use such funding to find innovative ways to carry out these responsibilities. In particular, EPA must offer more flexible approaches to funding state implementation efforts to reward innovation and emphasize results.

Private partnerships are yet another key to achieving pollution prevention. In many cases, collaborative efforts with industry or public agencies can help achieve results through pollution prevention more quickly than could be obtained through regulation alone. For example, EPA's Green Programs to promote voluntary energy efficiency will play a critical role in achieving obligations under the U.S. Action Plan to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2000.

Furthermore, regulations do not often reach the more complicated corporate decisions needed to evaluate design, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, and marketing practices to reduce pollution and energy consumption. EPA has undertaken a series of innovative efforts through its Design for the Environment Program to work with industry groups such as the printing and dry cleaning industries, the accounting profession, and the insurance industry to incorporate environmental life-cycle thinking into business decisions. The Federal Trade Commission has developed standards for the use of specific environmental terms in advertising but has not reached the more complex questions of environmental claims based on more comprehensive, life-cycle analysis. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is currently developing positions on these issues and could benefit from EPA involvement.

EPA needs to expand the scope of programs to encourage industry to go beyond compliance and to make measurable commitments to pollution prevention. That will require a better understanding of the relationship between compliance programs and the achievement of broader environmental goals.

Federal partnerships must also be undertaken to achieve the goals of pollution prevention. President Clinton's Earth Day speech challenged the federal government to "lead by example not by bureaucratic fiat."(5) The federal government has a tremendous impact on the environment as the nation's largest landlord and its biggest consumer of goods and services. Accordingly, the President signed an Executive Order on August 3, 1993, that requires federal agencies to report toxic emissions under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, establish a goal of cutting toxic emissions 50 percent, and set priorities for reducing the unnecessary use of extremely hazardous materials in government standards and specifications.(6)

Other federal agencies can create major opportunities for pollution prevention through policies that shape decisions in agriculture, energy, transportation, and the management of natural resources. If pollution prevention is to expand in these sectors, EPA must form partnerships that take advantage of the authority and expertise of other federal agencies. Earlier this year, EPA joined the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture in announcing a joint effort to develop a strategy to reduce the use of pesticides that present unreasonable risks. Other countries, including Canada and the Netherlands, have already adopted ambitious programs to cut back on the inefficient use of hazardous pesticides and fertilizers, which can cost farmers many dollars as well as pose risk to human health and the environment.

A driving force in pollution prevention has been public information and the concept of the right to know. Since pollution prevention is motivated in part by public information, one of EPA's most important tasks is to collect and disseminate user-friendly data that measures progress in reducing waste at its source. The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) has proved vital in helping industry to identify opportunities to reduce waste and improve economic efficiency. For example, many state pollution prevention planning laws are based directly on TRI data collected and maintained by EPA. New reporting requirements of the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, which took effect last year, expands data requirements to include the reporting of chemicals that were reduced at the source, recycled, treated, or disposed, as well as the volume released directly to the environment.

EPA has already committed to expanding the scope of the TRI to include different chemicals and major sources of emissions not already required to report. To make room for this expansion, EPA should reduce other paperwork requirements that are redundant or of less value.

Technological innovation can serve as the engine that drives pollution prevention. The federal government plays a critical role in funding research in new technologies and in disseminating information about technological options to the private sector. The President's new initiative includes $36 million in funding for research in new technologies and anticipates a major expansion of technical assistance through the National Institute of Standards and Technology.


1. The preamble to each major rule proposed by EPA should include a summary of the total multi-media releases and resultant risks to the environment from the activities that are the subject of the rule.

The analysis should include the estimated impact of the rule on these multi-media (e.g., air and water) releases and risks, and the preamble should identify other pending regulatory decisions likely to affect the same industry or industrial category that is the subject of the proposed rule. Having to provide these data will require identification of significant cross-media issues during development of the rule, and it will ensure that senior managers do not make significant regulatory decisions in a single-media vacuum. Such data will also provide industry with a more comprehensive picture of the web of regulatory transactions to which it must adjust over the coming years. EPA's performance can be measured according to whether it has incorporated this multi-media analysis into significant proposed rules within one year.

2. EPA should use its flexibility as it already has for the pulp and paper industry to adjust regulatory timetables so that major rules are proposed on the same date.

Integrated rulemaking offers major opportunities to overhaul industrial processes to improve efficiency while reducing transaction costs by satisfying multiple regulatory requirements. Integrated rules can also help lay the groundwork for more efficient multi-media permitting and inspection strategies. EPA's performance can be measured according to the number of single-media rules it has combined for proposal on the same date.

3. EPA should change existing reporting requirements that create disincentives to multi-media inspections and enforcement


at both the federal and state level.

For example, EPA's single-media inspection programs require states to report results in conflicting formats and different time frames. Changing reporting require-ments should be addressed as part of the pending reorganization of EPA's enforcement program. EPA's performance can be measured according to whether it has integrated the reporting requirements for state inspections into one multi-media database by the end of next year. EPA should also be required to keep data on multi-media inspections carried out by the agency and by states pursuant to federal regulations.

4. EPA should move toward a consolidated grant approach providing states with maximum flexibility in the use of federal funds in carrying out responsibilities that have been delegated to the states by EPA.

This may require developing performance-based measures that allow states the leeway to focus funding on the most significant problems. This flexibility should be exercised within a framework of clear federal objectives established by existing law (that is, the goal should not be a revenue-sharing approach). EPA's performance can be measured initially according to the number of dollars that states have been allowed to invest in multi-media projects under existing grant authority.

5. EPA should provide states with incentives to invest funds in water conservation and pollution prevention programs that reduce pollutant loadings of concern.

EPA's performance can be reflected in whether new policies are promulgated (by statute or rule) that accomplish the above objectives. Over time, the agency should be able to point to a reduction in the quantity of wastewater to be treated as a result of water conservation and pollution prevention.

6. EPA should invite a specific industry sector to jointly undertake several projects to evaluate the feasibility of developing multi- media pollution prevention strategies for that particular industry.

The projects should have clear objectives, including relating the pollution prevention objectives to compliance requirements, developing effective measures of performance, and assessing the efficacy of industry codes of conduct, for example, the Chemical Manufacturing Association's Responsible Care Program. Data from these projects could be extremely useful in developing strategies that offer industry more flexibility in return for achieving performance- based objectives. EPA's performance can be measured initially according to whether these projects have been undertaken. In the long run, EPA should be accountable for incorporating project recommendations into its legislative, regulatory, and compliance strategies.

7. EPA should help focus existing private sector labeling and standards programs by identifying the product categories of greatest concern. In addition, the agency should work with the American National Standards Institute in developing a coherent U.S. position on eco-labeling and life-cycle analysis.

EPA's performance can be measured according to whether existing private sector groups focus research and labeling efforts on the product categories of concern, and whether ANSI is able to develop an effective position on environmental standards and labeling.

8. EPA should work cooperatively with the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration, and other agencies to develop a national strategy to promote more efficient use of pesticides and fertilizers.

The strategy should emphasize priorities, specific goals, and public measures of progress. The strategy should be completed and announced by mid-1994. Over time, EPA and the USDA should be able to measure progress in reducing pesticides and nutrients of concern and to document the savings to farmers from more efficient farming practices. These goals should be accomplished within existing budgets but may require significant reprogramming of funds at USDA, because the amount of funding devoted to sustainable agriculture at USDA is still quite small in relation to other priorities.

9. EPA should develop a plan for implementing the two pending Executive Orders on Pollution Prevention and Recycling, so that it can carry out its role and work jointly with other federal agencies, as outlined in the Executive Orders.

These plans should include deadlines and identify individuals responsible for coordinating the development of the strategy in each agency. Both Executive Orders already include significant measurable goals. The Executive Orders can be accomplished within existing budgets but may require significant reprogramming of funds.

10. EPA should create an integrated database that provides information useful for measuring performance by industry, sector, and facility, and for devising long-term multi-media pollution prevention strategies.

To the extent practical, the data should be public and should be sound enough to be useful in providing alternative, performance-based yardsticks for compliance. In the long run, credible measures of performance are critical to providing industry with the kind of flexibility needed to optimize investments in pollution prevention. The integrated database should include TRI data expanded to cover additional chemicals and facilities with greater efforts at quality control. It should also include an inventory for measuring, on an industrywide basis, changes in the use of toxic chemicals and pesticides. EPA should identify and eliminate redundant reporting requirements or information collection efforts that serve no practical purpose. This integrated database, if credible, will provide Congress and the public with a better basis for measuring EPA's actual performance in reducing pollution. The costs of establishing this integrated database are likely to be significant, although some costs (for example, for TRI expansion) are already reflected in the President's budget. EPA should coordinate with the Department of Commerce to ensure that this does not conflict or overlap with its activities in this area.

11. EPA should earmark funds for environmental technology for prevention.

The President's 1994 budget includes $36 million in increased funding for research in the development of environmental technologies. A significant portion of this budget should be reserved for investments in pollution prevention with EPA involved in establishing priority areas for investment. Success will be measured in the short term according to how much of the Environmental Technology Initiative (ETI) expenditures are actually invested in technologies that don't pollute.

12. A significant portion of funds for the Environmental Technology Initiative should be targeted for technical assistance, including information access.

The EPA should ensure that a significant portion of new federal funds are used to help provide small businesses with technical assistance for pollution prevention. To the maximum extent practical, the federal government should rely on existing delivery systems (such as state pollution prevention programs) for the distribution of such assistance. EPA should play a wholesale role in developing and packaging materials useful to state and other federal programs, for example, by providing clear and consistent information about forthcoming regulatory requirements. Performance in the short term can be measured according to the amount of funding made available to help small businesses with investments in pollution prevention. In the long run, EPA and other agencies must evaluate how many businesses made use of the information and collect data on cost savings.


For each of the recommendations regarding regulations and compliance, short-term costs will include funding for cross-media training of regulatory and enforcement staff and for the development of an integrated database that can be shared by different programs. However, the long-term payoffs from a coordinated and efficient approach to rulemaking should far outweigh these temporary costs. Perhaps the greatest savings will be for industry, since integrated rulemaking can help reduce transactions costs by eliminating conflicting or overlapping requirements.

Regarding state and local partnerships, providing states with more flexibility to direct existing grant funds toward pollution prevention should not result in any increased costs. In the long run, emphasizing demand-side management for municipal water systems to encourage conservation and reduce principal sources of pollution may decrease the need for expensive investments in wastewater treatment. States are likely to welcome the increased ability to invest scarce dollars in activities with a higher environmental payoff.

With private partnerships, the demonstration projects outlined in the recommendations may require some funding to support data collection and analysis as well as peer review. Industry may be willing to bear most of these costs if it can reach agreement with EPA on a set of shared objectives. In the long run, these projects should help lead to more efficient approaches to regulations and compliance that offer both government and industry significant cost savings.

Implementing a comprehensive agriculture strategy, as part of federal partnerships, may require significant reprogramming of funds at USDA. Similarly, the Pollution Prevention and Recycling Executive Orders may also require reprogramming of funds at other federal agencies. Each of these initiatives is designed to establish goals and measures to focus existing resources on high-priority environmental problems.

The costs of establishing an integrated database to measure performance and evaluate compliance on a cross-media basis are likely to be in the range of $10 million. These resources will be most effectively spent if they are used to improve and establish linkages between existing databases, such as the TRI and the Office of Enforcement's Integrated Data for Enforcement Analysis network. Government costs may be offset in the long run by the elimination of redundant reporting requirements that currently impose data collection and management costs. Furthermore, an integrated database provides the foundation for establishing performance-based measures that allow both industry and government to find the most cost- effective alternatives for compliance.

Finally, with technology innovation, the recommendations do not request any new funds but, rather, suggest earmarking a significant fraction of the ETI budget for pollution prevention research and technical assistance to small business. Investing in new pollution prevention technologies can reduce the cost of environmental protection and position the United States to compete in the global marketplace. Technical assistance is critical for helping small businesses which are responsible for most new job creation meet the costs of complying with the new Clean Air Act and other statutes.

Fiscal Impact

This proposal is cost-neutral. For the majority of the issues, no new costs are anticipated; in the cases where some costs may be incurred, they are already included in the existing budget.


1. The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C.A. 13101 to 13109).

2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Science Advisory Board, Reducing Risk (Washington, D.C., 1990).

3. Environmental Dividends Cutting More Chemical Waste, Inform, Inc. (New York, 1992). The term "source reduction" means any practice that: a) reduces the amount of any hazard, pollutant, or contaminant entering any waste stream or otherwise released into the environment prior to recycling, treatment, or disposal; and b) reduces the hazards to the environment associated with the release of such substances, pollutants, or contaminants.

4. Multi-media is defined as air, water, solid waste, toxic waste, and pesticides.

5. President Clinton's Earth Day Speech, April 21, 1993, Washington, D.C.

6. Executive Order 12856, The Federal Emergency Planning and Community Right To Know Act, August 3, 1993.

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