Basic objective. Traditionally, environmental legislation in the United States has focused on an end-of-pipe-control approach for minimizing discharge of pollutants to the environment. By using this approach, considerable progress has been made in reducing the total discharge of pollutants to the environment. However, this often has resulted in transferring pollutants from one medium to another and in many cases is not cost effective. The basic objective of the Pollution Prevention Act is to establish a national policy of preventing or reducing pollution at the source wherever feasible, and it directs the federal EPA to undertake certain steps in that regard. Prior to this act, RCRA
Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments of 1984 had established a program of waste minimization. This law has many provisions, including requiring large-quantity generators to certify on their waste manifests that they have a program in place to minimize the amount and toxicity of wastes generated to the extent economically feasible.
Key provisions. The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 established as national policy the following waste management hierarchy:
1. Prevention. The waste management priority is to prevent or reduce pollution at the source whenever feasible.
2. Recycling. Where pollution cannot be prevented, it should be recycled in an environmentally safe manner whenever feasible.
3. Treatment. In the absence of feasible prevention and recycling, pollution should be treated to applicable standards prior to release or transfers.
4. Disposal. Only as a last resort are wastes to be disposed of safely. The Pollution Prevention Act further directed the EPA to
1. Establish a prevention office independent of the agency's singlemedium program offices (the EPA added pollution prevention to the existing function of Assistant Administrator for Pesticides and Toxic Substances). Congress appropriated $8 million for each of the fiscal years 1991, 1992, and 1993 for the new office to fulfill the function delineated in the act.
2. Facilitate the adoption by business of source-reduction techniques by establishing a source-reduction clearinghouse and a state matching grants program. Congress further appropriated $58 million for each of the fiscal years 1991, 1992, and 1993 for state grants, with a 50 percent state match requirement.
3. Establish a training program on source-reduction opportunities for state and federal officials working in all agency program offices.
4. Identify opportunities to use federal procurement to encourage source reduction.
5. Establish an annual award program to recognize companies that operate outstanding or innovative source reduction programs.
7. Require an annual toxic chemicals source reduction and recycling report for each owner or operator of a facility already required to file an annual toxic chemical release form under Section 313 of SARA.
The EPA is pursuing the integration of pollution prevention into all its programs and activities and has developed unique voluntary reduction programs with the public and private sectors. The EPA 33/50 Program, through voluntary enrollment and direct action by industry, sought to reduce the generation of high-priority wastes from a target group of 17 toxic chemicals by 50 percent by 1995, with an interim goal of 33 percent reduction by 1992, as measured against a 1988 baseline. The 33/50 Program achieved its goal in 1994.
The executive branch of the federal government has sought to apply pollution prevention requirements broadly throughout the government. Under Executive Order 13148, "Greening the Government Through Leadership in Environmental Management," April 21, 2000, federal agencies became responsible for integrating environmental accountability and more stringent pollution prevention considerations into their day-to-day decisions and long-term planning. The executive order is administered by the EPA, with certain responsibilities delegated to the CEQ.
Enforcement responsibilities; federal-state relationship. The EPA conducts a yearly audit of major users of toxic substances and producers of toxic wastes. "The purpose of the audits is to determine:
1. whether there are better and less environmentally damaging ways to complete the task without use of toxic substances,
2. whether there are ways to minimize the production of toxic wastes,
3. whether there are ways to recycle the toxic substances,
4. and who is regulated" (Trudeau and Olexa, 1994).
Again, the federal government's statutes take precedence over state statutes. The act also pledges federal assistance to states (up to 50 percent) with pollution prevention programs under the act.
Accomplishments and impacts. "The primary purpose of the Pollution Prevention Act is to discourage the disposal of recyclable toxic substances" (Trudeau and Olexa, 1994). The act focuses on industry, government, and public attention on reducing the amount of pollution through cost-effective changes in production, operation, and raw materials use (EPA, 1997). "Opportunities for source reduction are often not realized because of existing regulations, and the industrial resources required for compliance, focus on treatment and disposal. Source reduction is fundamentally different and more desirable than waste management or pollution control" (EPA, 1997).
"Pollution prevention also includes other practices that increase efficiency in the use of energy, water or other natural resources, and protect our resource base through conservation. Practices include recycling, source reduction, and sustainable agriculture" (EPA, 1997).
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