The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) National Advisory Committee for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT) has stated that the nation's potential to improve the environment is directly related to its ability to produce and apply technological solutions.(1) However, NACEPT has also noted that the current rate of technological innovation is less than required. This is creating a gap between the ability to define risk and target environmental problems, and the ability to solve them.
EPA can accelerate the pace of technological development by building stronger partnerships with technology providers and users. NACEPT concluded that enhanced technology programs are essential to the achievement of EPA's mission and that EPA should establish the climate, culture, and incentives necessary to encourage widespread use of improved technology. NACEPT further noted that EPA should streamline coordination with its potential partners and, thus, should establish stronger technology partnerships.(2)
The application of more effective environmental technologies, however, is not just a matter of environmental improvement. Improved technologies reduce the costs of environmental protection, and they enhance the competitiveness of the United States in both the domestic and international environmental technology markets. The EPA estimates that the domestic market for environmental technology now exceeds $150 billion per year, and that the world-wide market may exceed $300 billion per year.
Innovative technologies can play a significant role in cleaning up the environment in many different situations, such as: monitoring/site assessment situations to determine the degree of contamination at a site; remedial situations used to clean up a site; pollution control, otherwise known as end-of- pipe cleanup; recycling; and pollution prevention where a process or product is designed/redesigned to reduce or eliminate production of pollutants. In the long run, innovative pollution prevention technologies will have a tremendous impact on environmental protection, cost effectiveness, and global competitiveness.
Designing and redesigning manufacturing processes to produce a better product and one that is designed for the environment, often called a green product, will yield a more competitive product.
For example, in the Energy Star program, major computer companies joined with EPA to design computers that use less energy and, thereby, contribute to the release of fewer pollutants at power generation facilities. The Energy Star program is expected by some estimates to save up to 2 percent of the nation's energy costs by the year 2000.(3) According to EPA, the early demand for energy-saving computers appears to be very high. The Energy Star program should give domestic computer designers and manufacturers a lead over foreign competition in the sale of these machines.
Improved technology to clean up existing environmental waste and prevent the future manufacture of such waste has great economic importance. According to recent EPA estimates, the average cost to clean up one superfund National Priorities List (NPL) site is $27 million, and EPA estimates it will cost a total of $16.5 billion to clean up just those NPL sites already identified. Thus, partnerships between EPA and industry are necessary to develop more cost-effective solutions through innovative technologies that is, those that look promising but may lack the cost and performance data necessary to support routine use.
The President's budget proposes an Environmental Technology Initiative (ETI) for the next five years, which would provide $620 million in increased funding for technology development. Much of this money would be in the base budgets of other federal agencies. In addition to participating in partnerships with these agencies to fully advance the innovation of environmental technologies, EPA also needs to leverage its limited resources to spur industry to participate with EPA as full partners in environmental technology innovation.
Recently, EPA started a new public-private partnership program in cleaning up polluted sites. A Cooperative Research and Development Agreement at McClellan Air Force Base in California was developed under the provisions of the Federal Technology Transfer Act.(4)
The project's goal is to evaluate the use of innovative technologies for contaminated soil and ground water (such as soil vapor extraction with innovative off-gas treatment, two-phase vacuum extraction, and bioremediation) as alternatives to established technologies (such as incineration). The project was initiated under a grant from the EPA Technology Innovation Office. A nonprofit organization, Clean Sites, Inc., of Alexandria, Virginia, is facilitating this partnership between the Air Force, EPA's Region 9 (headquartered in San Francisco, California), the California EPA, several private companies (AT&T, Beazer-East, Dow, Dupont, Monsanto, Southern California Edison, and Xerox), the EPA Risk Reduction Engineering Laboratory, and the EPA Office of Federal Facility Enforcement.
Expanding the McClellan model to other federal and state projects would enable EPA to leverage limited resources to promote innovative technologies, clean up or stablilize hazardous environmental sites, prevent pollution, and provide economic improvement to the United States and other countries. The
Because of the success of innovative technologies whether in site remediation, pollution control, or pollution prevention there is also an economic benefit to private industry. For instance, a pollution control partnership between EPA, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and private industry is field testing an innovative sulfur removal device that can replace flue gas scrubbers. If successful, savings for industries could exceed $1 billion per year, according to EPA, and this estimate does not include the economic gain from selling the technology both here and abroad.
Innovative technology can benefit small business as well. The EPA assisted a small manufacturer of orthopedic devices to switch from a solvent that damages the ozone layer to a more diluted cleaner. The firm's products are now cleaned in an ultrasonic bath with the cleaner to remove grease from the parts. The new cleaning system is saving the business about $4,800 per year, according to EPA. It cost the business about $1,800 to implement the innovation.
Environmental technologies are often extremely difficult to develop and test in a laboratory setting. Possible solutions conceived in a laboratory must, therefore, be evaluated outside of the laboratory in a real-world environment. However, attempting to develop and test innovative technologies outside a laboratory creates a risk for those testing the technology. The technology may not work the way it was planned, exposing technology implementers to financial liability. The McClellan partnership is based on risk-sharing by government and industry, an essential element to encourage first uses of innovative technology.
The Governors of several Western states have already recognized the economic and environmental benefits of such a model program. They have developed an action plan, working with the Departments of Defense, Energy, and the Interior, and the EPA, to implement similar programs in partnership with industry. The Governors have cited the McClellan project as a model for their proposal.
EPA is looking for other possible federal installations to use the McClellan model and is examining possible ways to expand this to non- federal sites. It has provided $700,000 to Clean Sites, Inc., to facilitate a series of these public-private partnerships.
In sum, EPA needs to take the lead in the development, evaluation, dissemination, and use of superior environmental technologies. EPA must not only make certain that its policies and regulations allow such innovation, but it must also encourage statutory changes to spur such innovation. Therefore, EPA needs to take a proactive approach by: (1) leveraging its limited resources in partnerships with private industry; (2) providing small and large businesses with technical support regarding the benefits and costs; and (3) establishing a program to validate the performance of innovative environmental technologies.
The plan should identify existing barriers to innovative technology development, recommend new approaches for writing regulations, seek opportunities for working with other federal agencies, and identify policies and procedures to facilitate permitting for innovative technologies. Such a plan would encourage the introduction of innovative environmental technology. After the action plan is completed, its permitting component should be tested as a pilot program involving innovative approaches to permit development of new environmental technology. A special team, to be established by mid- 1994, consisting of permit writers from EPA and the states, should test the action plan by initiating 20 permit reviews. These reviews should begin by January 1995. The reviews would determine whether the permits could be changed or modified to allow the use of more innovative technology to accomplish the environmental mandate dictated by the permits. Results from the pilot program may require changes in the plan or may result in recommendations for statutory change.
2. EPA, in partnership with other federal agencies, should establish a small business center as a pilot program to expand the technology options available in the marketplace by helping businesses obtain financing for new technologies.
The center would identify environmental business opportunities, develop a business plan, provide marketing information, and identify funding sources. Assistance should be provided to 10 small businesses from this center by October 1994, and to another 10 by October 1995.
3. EPA should develop and promote a series of monographs to assist industry in identifying pollution prevention opportunities and making informed, responsible design choices.
These monographs should include information on specific industry processes, products, and systems in the areas of comparative risks, performance, and costs, including environmental costs. The monographs, describing the use of analytical tools including full cost accounting systems and substitute assessment analytical tools, should be completed by October 1994.
4. EPA should establish five partnerships similar to the McClellan Air Force Base model to expand available sites where developers and vendors can test and evaluate their technologies.
Two of the partnerships, including McClellan, should be established by April 1994, and three more by January 1995. These partnerships would help EPA leverage its limited resources to promote innovative technology development by industry.
5. EPA should establish an environmental technology performance verification program by October 1995, to evaluate and validate the claims of environmental technology vendors.
Under this program, EPA could designate an independent group, with the assistance of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to perform the assessments. These assessments would be similar to those conducted by Underwriters Laboratories for electrical equipment. The program would provide users, financiers, EPA, and others with consistent, credible protocols and testing data and independent review and verification of performance claims. Protocols for the first technology applications should be developed by October 1996.
6. EPA should establish five partnerships with different industries to reengineer common products and processes in order to promote environmentally cleaner manufacturing processes.
The purpose of this effort would be to reduce the use of hazardous materials and eliminate or reduce toxic releases during production release and disposal. The first two of these partnerships should be established by October 1994. Another partnership involving the computer industry should be established by January 1995. Two additional partnerships for reengineering common products and processes should commence by September 1995.
2. Ibid, pp. 59-61.
3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Performance Review Committee on Environmental Technology, Washington, D.C., July 1993.
4. Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between Clean Sites, Inc. (on behalf of interested private companies) and EPA, December 1, 1992, 0049-92. Also see the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986, Public Law 99-502; and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Superfund Innovative Technology Evaluation Program: Technology with an Impact (Washington, D.C., February 1993), p. 4.
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