Pollution Prevention (P2)

Pollution Prevention Policy Statement

New Directions for Environmental Protection

Carol M. Browner
Then EPA Administrator
June 15, 1993

1. Pollution Prevention: The New Environmental Ethic

The Pollution Prevention Act establishes a bold national objective for environmental protection: "[T]hat pollution should be prevented or reduced at the source whenever feasible." This policy statement offers my thoughts on how we can achieve that goal by making pollution prevention the guiding principle for all our programs at the Environmental Protection Agency.

We have already taken concrete actions that reflect the Clinton-Gore Administration's commitment to environmental solutions that reduce pollution at its source. For example:

  • The Administration's budget request for the 1994 fiscal year includes a $33 million increase in spending for pollution prevention programs at EPA;
  • On Earth Day, the President announced his commitment to an Executive Order establishing voluntary source reduction goals for procurement, and requiring federal agencies to comply with Right-to-Know public reporting requirements for toxic chemical wastes;
  • On May 25, I released new Pollution Prevention Act data on the type and amount of toxic chemicals generated as waste, and announced my intention to expand Right-to-Know to include different chemicals and sources of pollution.

We can take pride in each of these accomplishments, but we must go further. We must build pollution prevention into the very framework of our mission to protect human health and the environment.

The new focus on pollution prevention will require a significant change in the way EPA carries out its responsibilities and advocates resources. The discussion below explains the multiple dimensions of EPA's investment in pollution prevention, and establishes basic principles to guide programs and regions toward our goal of integrating prevention into the Agency's "corporate culture."

This policy statement is only a starting point: if we are to succeed, we must continually renew our commitment by questioning established practices, working cooperatively across program and agency boundaries, and not hesitating to acknowledge shortcomings as well as success stories. I know I can count on your support as we work together to chart a new course for environmental protection.

2. Why Pollution Prevention?

When EPA was created in the early 1970's, our work had to focus first on controlling and cleaning up the most immediate problems. Those efforts have yielded major reductions in pollution in which we should all take pride. Over time, however, we have learned 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. Additional improvements to environmental quality will require us to move "upstream" to prevent pollution from occurring in the first place.

Preventing pollution also offers important economic benefits, as pollution never created avoids the need for expensive investments in waste management or cleanup. Pollution prevention has the exciting potential for both protecting the environment and strengthening economic growth through more efficient manufacturing and raw material use.

3. Summary Of Objectives

Pollution prevention is influenced by a number of factors, including EPA regulations and state programs, collaborative efforts that offer recognition and technical assistance, public data, the availability of clean technologies, and the practices and policies of large public agencies. To be effective, our pollution prevention program must establish the following objectives for each of these areas:

  • Regulations and Compliance: The mainstream activities at EPA such as regulatory development permitting, inspections, and enforcement, must reflect our commitment to reduce pollution at the source, and minimize the cross-media transfer of waste.
  • State and Local Partnerships: Increasingly, state and local agencies are the "face of government" for the general public. We will strengthen the national network of state and local prevention programs, and seek to integrate prevention into state and local regulatory, permitting, and inspection programs supported with federal funds.
  • Private Partnerships: We will identify and pioneer new cooperative efforts that emphasize multi-media prevention strategies, reinforce the mutual goals of economic and environmental well-being, and represent new models for government/private sector interaction.
  • Federal Partnerships: We must work closely with our counterparts in other agencies to ensure that pollution prevention guides our management and procurement decisions, and to pursue opportunities for reducing waste at the source in the non-industrial sector.
  • Public Information/The Right-to-Know: We will collect and share useful information that helps identify pollution prevention opportunities, measure progress, and recognize success.
  • Technological Innovation: We will try to meet high priority needs for new pollution prevention technologies that increase competitiveness and enhance environmental stewardship, through partnerships with other federal agencies, universities, states, and the private sector.
  • New Legislation: Where justified, we must not hesitate to seek changes in federal environmental law that will encourage investment in source reduction.

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4. Definition

EPA has defined pollution prevention as "source reduction" as that term is explained under the Pollution Prevention Act, as well as protecting natural resources through conservation or increased efficiency in the use of energy, water, or other materials. EPA staff should continue to use this definition, as elaborated in the Agency guidance issued in May of 1992.

The guidance makes clear that pollution prevention is not the only strategy for reducing risk but 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.

In all cases we must be guided by applicable statutory requirements.

5. Regulations And Compliance

Our first obligation at EPA is to fulfill the statutory responsibilities we have been given by Congress. That generally means developing environmental standards through regulation, and ensuring compliance through a system of permits inspections, and enforcement actions. I firmly believe that strong environmental requirements, if designed to encourage cost-effective compliance strategies from industry, can promote pollution prevention and improve the competitiveness of American industry.

We can take a number of actions to realize this potential. First, we must work within the law to design and implement our regulations to provide incentives for source reduction. That will mean better coordination of different regulations that affect the same industry to reduce transaction costs, minimize cross-media transfers of waste, and provide a clearer sense of our long-term goals for the regulated community.

EPA's Source Reduction Review Project (SRRP), which is exploring how best to encourage pollution prevention in the design and implementation of rules affecting 17 high priority industries, is a good start toward this goal. I also will expect programs to evaluate opportunities for preventing pollution in each major proposed regulation, as the Pollution Prevention Act requires.

Second, we must encourage pollution prevention as a means of compliance through our permitting, inspection, and enforcement programs, relying on the first-hand experience of regions and states in this area. We can learn valuable lessons from experiments like the Massachusetts Waste Prevention F.I.R.S.T. project, through which the state promotes source reduction as the principal means of correcting violations detected through multimedia inspections.

Finally, we need to collect better data on those cost savings that occur when regulations encourage investments in cleaner, more efficient manufacturing processes. As part of this effort, we must develop credible measures of the economic value of natural resources protected through prevention. We must also explore non-traditional alternatives, such as life-cycle analysis, that help shed light on the advantages prevention can offer in meeting our objectives.

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6. State and Local Partnerships

The Clinton Administration has called for a full partnership between federal, state and local governments in defining and carrying out national policy objectives. We delegate so many responsibilities to states and localities under federal environmental law; we simply cannot hope to offer effective incentives for pollution prevention in permits or inspections without their close cooperation. Furthermore, some states have served as national laboratories for the incubation of exciting new multimedia experiments in reducing waste at the source, and are often more in touch with industry and public needs and how best to meet them. Several states also have taken the lead in helping their citizens and businesses use energy more efficiently.

We can explore different methods for offering state and local governments more flexibility in the federal grants used to support delegated activities like permitting, inspections, and enforcement actions. EPA's new guidance, beginning in the 1994 fiscal year, encourages our regions to work with states to adjust administrative procedures in grant work plans to make room for pollution prevention investments. EPA regions and states should make maximum use of this flexibility, working within the statutory limits that govern grant eligibility. The guidance requires programs to report on legal barriers to funding worthwhile state pollution prevention projects, so that we may consult with Congress to seek appropriate remedies.

We also must trust our state partners with greater responsibility for the Pollution Prevention Information Clearinghouse, which will facilitate prevention technology transfer and technical assistance. Our Regional Offices also have lead responsibilities in the allocation of State grant monies under the Pollution Prevention Act and in the-use of Regional extramural resources (i.e. the 2% funds) allocated to pollution prevention activities. We must make effective use of these resources to support strong state and local pollution prevention programs.

7. Private Partnerships

Collaborative efforts with industry or public agencies in many cases can help us achieve results through pollution prevention more quickly than could be obtained through regulation alone. For example, EPA's Green Programs to the voluntary energy efficiency will play a critical role in helping meet our obligations under the U.S. Action Plan to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2000.

Furthermore, regulations often do not reach the more complicated corporate decisions needed to evaluate design, manufacturing, packaging, distribution and marketing practices to reduce pollution and energy consumption. We must encourage these efforts by entering into partnerships with public and private organizations where such cooperation can produce tangible environmental results. EPA's collaborative efforts - like the Green Programs, 33/50 and Design for Environment -- offer encouragement, assistance and public recognition to those companies and groups willing to commit the resources needed to get the job done.

Recently, these initiatives have expanded to include WAVE, a program to encourage water conservation with the hotel/motel industry. Earlier this year, EPA proposed an "Environmental Leadership" program to reward corporations willing to go beyond compliance by making measurable commitments to pollution prevention. EPA's FY 94 budget proposal requests a substantial increase in funding for these programs, reflecting our commitment to achieve environmental gains by working cooperatively with industry. These investments will supplement, but not substitute for, regulatory approaches to pollution prevention.

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8. Federal Partnerships

President Clinton's Earth Day speech challenged the federal government to, "lead by example - not by bureaucratic fiat." Our government has a tremendous impact on the environment as the nation's largest landlord, and its biggest consumer of goods and services. Later this summer, we expect to complete action on an Executive Order that commits federal facilities to publicly report wastes and emissions under TRI, establishes a voluntary goal of cutting federal TRI releases 50% by 1999, and builds pollution prevention into the specifications and standards that guide federal purchases. EPA recognizes that other federal agencies can create major opportunities for pollution prevention through investments in new technologies, and through policies that shape decisions in agriculture, energy, transportation, and the management of natural resources. If we want pollution prevention to expand in these sectors, we must form partnerships that take advantage of the authority and expertise at other federal agencies.

9. Public Information/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) as amended by the Pollution Prevention Act now-requires 28,000 industrial facilities to publicly report on the amounts of toxic chemicals generated as waste or released to the environment. These and other environmental data have proved vital in helping industry to identify opportunities to reduce waste and improve economic efficiency. Through public disclosure, the TRI empowers local communities, State agencies and other public interest groups to become stronger advocates for pollution prevention.

I am committed to strengthening the Toxics Release Inventory, both by improving the quality of the information and by making more effective use of EPA's existing authority to expand the scope of reporting to additional chemicals and major sources of pollution. We will also make the information more accessible and understandable to states and local communities that depend on timely and accurate data.

EPA's public data bases are not limited to TRI. Preventing chemical accidents also is important, and the Agency collects information on chemicals that can present a hazard if released during an accident. Data collected under laws such as the Clean Air, Clean Water and Resource Conservation and Recovery Acts are important indicators of environmental risk as well as prevention opportunities, and EPA must take steps to integrate this information and make it more readily accessible to the public.

We cannot stop at collecting and interpreting data. We should encourage public education, from the university to the grade school level, that illustrates the importance of environmental protection and the benefits of prevention.

10. Technological Innovation

Cooperative efforts with universities, industry, and other Federal agencies help raise awareness of prevention opportunities and attract leading scientists and engineers to engage in demonstration, development, and research focused on new prevention technologies. Accordingly, we must expand work with groups like the Department of Energy and its National Laboratories, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), states, and the private sector to advance both the development of new pollution prevention technology and the effective delivery of information about such technology to companies looking for more efficient environmental solutions.

I want to make sure that some of the funding available through the President's Environmental Technology Initiative is targeted to help small businesses meet compliance requirements through pollution prevention while remaining competitive. As part of this effort, I will expect our programs to work together to identify small business needs so that we may target short term technical assistance and long term cooperative research in developing cleaner, more efficient technologies.

11. New Legislation

I am convinced that we can achieve many important pollution prevention goals working under existing federal environmental laws. Where these statutes present significant barriers to reducing waste at the source, however, we should not hesitate to share this information with Congress and, if needed, seek appropriate statutory changes. I want to be sure that any effort to seek new authority is informed by fact. That is why it is particularly important to gather specific and accurate information on legal barriers to source reduction identified when developing regulations and negotiating grants with states.

12. Conclusion

I expect pollution prevention to continue to evolve at EPA. As we learn more, no doubt we will have to make adjustments to our programs that reflect new knowledge. In the final analysis, what is critical in our efforts to advance pollution prevention is a willingness to take chances, to question established practices and experiment with new ideas, and above all to cooperate with each other as we try to harmonize environmental protection with economic growth. I hope you share my excitement at the new possibilities for pollution prevention in the Clinton-Gore Administration, and I look forward to working with all of you to achieve the ambitious goals of this policy.

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