Beyond Command and Control

EPA's National Environmental Performance Track aims to motivate and reward top environmental performers

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Back in the 1970s ," the days of Love Canal, burning rivers, smoky skies and the energy crisis ," the "command and control" approach to environmental regulation seemed both appropriate and necessary. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) not only established compliance goals for long-polluting manufacturing facilities, but also dictated the technology or technologies to be used to accomplish these goals.

Industry needed such "blueprints" ," it generally lacked the incentive and know-how to clean up its own act.

Flash forward to the 21st century. The most horrendous of our nation's pollution problems are distant memories, and many experts believe we have reached a point at which incremental reductions in pollution too often require a substantial increase in associated control costs. Moreover, by sanctioning specific technologies for pollution control, existing regulations might not provide the necessary flexibility for a facility to achieve environmental improvements in a way that makes the most sense economically and logistically.

In other words, the one-size-fits-all approach to environmental protection no longer cuts the mustard.

 

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman welcomes Ray Krogmeier of DuPont's Fort Madison, Iowa, facility to the National Environmental Performance Track program.

Partnering for results

Even EPA is rethinking its tactics. Several recently launched agency voluntary programs now focus on results and the building of partnerships to help achieve those results.

EPA's Project XL, introduced in the mid-1990s, provides one example of the agency's willingness to try a new approach. Short for "eXcellence and Leadership," XL is a national pilot program that allows industry, state and local governments, and federal facilities to develop, in conjunction with EPA, innovative strategies to investigate better or more cost-effective ways of to achieve environmental and public health protection. In exchange, EPA provides regulatory, program, policy or procedural flexibility.

A few years back, the agency annou-nced another initiative called Community Based Environmental Protection (CBEP). Coordinated by the EPA's Office of Policy, Economics, and Innovation, CBEP supplements and complements the traditional environmental protection approach by focusing on the health of an ecosystem and the behavior of humans that live within that ecosystem, instead of concentrating on specific media or issues.

Perhaps most significant to industry, however, is EPA's newest large-scale voluntary program ," the National Environmental Performance Track program. Unveiled in 2000, the public/private partnership seeks to motivate and reward top environmental performers.

Dan Fiorino, director of the National Environmental Performance Track program, believes such voluntary programs enhance, rather than replace, traditional regulatory programs.

"I think regulation is still necessary to establish the basic rules of the game and keep everybody at least on the same basic level," stresses Fiorino, "but regulation sometimes has created barriers to improvements because there are very specific requirements that might not make sense at a facility. Also, they just add a lot of transaction costs."

Performance Track members earn the right to use the Performance Track logo within company communications and also receive national recognition from EPA through the agency's Web sites and various promotional materials. They are given the opportunity to participate in EPA information briefings, peer exchanges, workshops and networking opportunities. Participants also are of low priority for EPA inspection.

To qualify, program applicants must have in place a working environmental management system (EMS). The EMS must include a written environmental policy, a strategic plan to reduce environmental impact, and implementation and operation procedures to accomplish EMS goals, as well as methods to evaluate performance and to take corrective action related to nonconformance. Applicants must show a history of environmental compliance and achievement, as well as a commitment to continued improvement. In addition, they must have a public outreach program in place and actively report on their environmental performance.

 

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman speaks to National Environmental Performance Track members.

Making the grade

Such achievements are easier said than done ," only a small fraction of the nation's thousands of chemical, petrochemical and pharmaceutical facilities have demonstrated that they have what it takes for membership.

Madison Chemical Co. Inc. in Madison, Ind., is a charter member of Performance Track ," and a company that takes its environmental commitments very seriously. The independent, 82-employee specialty chemical manufacturer has won the Indiana Governor's Award for Pollution Prevention three times and aims to produce the most environmentally safe products possible.

"We design aqueous products to replace more environmentally dangerous products for cleaning and degreasing," explains Sam George, vice president and director of corporate affairs for Madison Chemical. "Anytime OSHA or EPA makes a list of bad things, we don't mess with them ," we stop using them. And that's a challenge. So whether it's a carcinogen or an ozone-depleting substance or a SARA 313 [substance], we design our products to help our customers eliminate those products in the first place."

Madison Chemical's environmental philosophy is driven by the company's owner, says George, and is carried out by every company employee. "We're competing for degreed chemists and chemical engineers, and we're in a little rural county in southern Indiana," notes George. "It's difficult sometimes to lure them here. But our environmental reputation and our commitment to these programs [allows us to] attract a certain type of employee that frankly we're looking for ," one who would rather do a lot of projects that really are very beneficial to the environment rather than say they work for a mega corporation somewhere."

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