Environmental Protection:

EPA Should Strengthen Its Efforts to Measure and Encourage Pollution Prevention

GAO-01-283: Published: Feb 21, 2001. Publicly Released: Mar 26, 2001.

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Limited quantitative data exists on the extent to which American industry has sought to use pollution prevention methods to reduce pollutants discharged from its facilities. This shortcoming has inhibited the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to monitor and encourage companies' use of pollution prevention measures. Whether to undertake pollution prevention is typically a business decision that is influenced largely by a company's judgment as to whether an investment in pollution prevention will benefit it financially. One notable exception is the design of environmental regulations, some of which have had the unintended consequence of discouraging pollution prevention practices. In some cases, EPA may have no means to address them. The design of some regulations may be constrained by their governing statutes. In other cases, EPA may be better able to take the national goal of promoting pollution prevention into consideration in developing its regulatory proposals. The Pollution Prevention Act requires EPA to review its regulatory proposals to determine their effects on source reduction. However, the agency has not systematically tracked the implementation of this provision, and therefore does not know the extent to which source reduction has been considered in the promulgation of EPA regulations. Although it may be impossible to promote pollution prevention in all of the agency's regulations, a greater awareness of these practices in the agency's rulemaking process can help significantly to further this important goal.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA agreed with the intent of the recommendation, and cited recent efforts to clarify TRI reporting requirements and improve the accuracy of pollution prevention information submitted to the TRI. It indicated that by their nature, such efforts are always a work in progress, but that, in response to our recommendation, it has "continued such efforts."

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should amend the agency's rule on the way companies report toxic releases to Toxic Release Inventory to (1) clarify reporting requirements so that facilities report their source reduction activities in a consistent manner and (2) obtain accurate data on the quantity of emissions reduced so that the agency can ascertain the extent and impact of source reduction activities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA cited actions it has taken to meet the Pollution Prevention Act's requirements to determine the pollution prevention-related implications of upcoming regulations. Follow-up discussions with EPA pollution prevention officials identified additional actions, since GAO's report's issuance, that seek to incorporate pollution prevention considerations into new agency regulations as they are proposed.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should systematically determine the extent to which the agency is complying with the Pollution Prevention Act's requirement that EPA "review regulations of the Agency prior and subsequent to their proposal to determine their effect on source reduction." If warranted by the results of the agency's analysis, the Administrator should develop a plan to improve the agency's compliance.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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