Current Regulatory Options

Over 30 years after the creation of the U.S. EPA and passage of the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Act [22] and the Safe Drinking Water Act [23], the regulatory issues are complex, with economic, ethical, and social implications. Therefore, to protect the complex environmental system, regulators and other concerned parties are developing a greater range of options [24-26]. The broad option categories include consumer-directed choices and decisions (e.g., social marketing); financial incentives, such as sales taxes and eco-zoning; integrative regulation (such as the establishment of total maximum daily loads for water pollution); limiting or removing a quantifiable threat to health; long- term structural, and/or societal approaches (i.e., sustainability projects) [11]; traditional regulation and enforcement (i.e., "command and control" approaches that set targets and the means to reach them); pollution prevention (e.g. recycling); promotion of new technologies, including industrial processes and managerial approaches; public announcements regarding environmental performance; and self-certification (e.g., dry cleaning programs).

With these options in mind, how should agencies determine which approaches to apply? According to Allenby [2], they must first decide which hazards most urgently require attention by conducting a Comprehensive Risk Assessment (CRA). The key steps are: (1) identify the hazard, (2) determine the "delivered dose" of the hazard, (3) assess the probability of an undesirable effect of the dose, (4) determine the exposed population, and (5) characterize the risk in measurable terms. In addition, Allenby [2] suggests that other risks should be included in a comprehensive assessment of risk, including trade-offs among environmental impacts (or environmental and other impacts); the need to address multiple endpoints, rather than the most feared or the one for which most data can be gathered; and the inherent ambiguities of complex environmental and economic systems within which risky activities occur.

In deciding which regulatory approach to select, regulators may then develop a Comprehensive Policy Support Assessment (CPSA) using all the risks identified. To be comprehensive, the approach should allocate at least some resources to alternatives that address complex systems and interactions and support the goal of sustainability. These may have a higher risk of failure, but also higher rates of return. Allenby [2] proposes four steps in the CPSA: (1) possible responses to the risk are identified; (2) a CRA is developed for each option; (3) each CRA is "monitarized" to the extent possible; and (4) once monitarized, the CRA should be integrated into the cost/benefit analysis for each approach.

While this model is helpful, it has limitations. For instance, the literature supports the public perception that some things have a value beyond measure (e.g., human life, biodiversity), and that the public may react strongly against an attempt to "monitarize" these [14]. In addition, as Nordhaus [27] indicates, an accurate measure of the costs of specific types of environmental damage is often unavailable. Further, the operations of multinational corporations make it difficult or impossible for geographically-bounded governments to exact payment for damage [13]. In these situations, any "end of pipe" strategy may be undesirable, and a more proactive strategy may be needed. Finally, experts estimate that of the 65,000 individual chemicals in use, only 1% have full toxicology data, and 80% have not even been tested [28,29]. Under these conditions, even the first step in Allenby's model—hazard identification—is often impossible.

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