Various governments and environmental authorities have employed strategies towards managing and preventing environmental pollution. The strategies which may basically be classified as other regulatory or voluntary are both aimed at ensuring that a universally healthy and sustainable environment is realized. Regulatory strategies often involve mandatory measures or policies that are accompanied by sanctions. The voluntary strategies on the other hand are dependent on those parties that contribute to the pollution to have environmental management systems (EMSs). The later has realized popularity during the recent years and has to a greater extend dominated the strategies aimed at environmental pollution prevention and remediation. The strategies have their implications either positive or negative.
Merits and Limitations of Regulatory approaches to Prevention and Remediation
One merit of using regulations is that they are enforceable. Once certain environmental policies or statutes have been put in place, a party that acts contrary to the provision attracts sanctions on themselves. When governments for example put limits by statutes such as the Clean Air Act on the capacity of emission on the companies and enterprises and further define the sanctions that may take financial forms, such parties will tend to take measures to ensure they do not suffer loss by ensuring they do not exceed the stipulated limits.
Having regulations in regards to environmental pollution merits in ensuring safety and health of both the humans and their environment is considered. If the regulations are not put in place, cost effective enterprises and individuals would barely have considerations for what implications their actions remit to the environment as long as their cost are reduced and revenues are increased.
Regulatory approaches increase innovation that is aimed at reducing the amount of pollutants remitted to the environment. Many business enterprises in the quest to meet the demands of their consumers who have become sensitive on matters touching on the environment have adopted technology and production devices that either reduce amount of pollutants or eliminates the toxic substances in the emissions. The rise in production of electric cars and the fitting of exhaust systems with filters to reduce the effect carbon gas emission are examples of the innovations that have come up as a result of the regulations.
The use of statutory regulations is costly in terms of time and money. Passing the regulations demands political good will which may be strenuous to achieve. In some instances, leaders are reluctant before a disaster is experienced. The Fukushima nuclear disaster, the oil spill from Exxon Valdez and the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig are examples of incidences that only attracted regulations when their implications had been felt. Further, the legislations arising after a disaster may not be effective as they are hastily done. The implementation cost is very high. When the implementation for example is under the Clean Air Acts, it takes place in the states through State Implementation Plans (SIPs). In addition, policymakers can choose instruments such as uniform emission standards which basically raise the compliance costs.
Environmental issues attract the intervention of the environmental courts and tribunals. Formulation of laws by regulators that will stand law suits from parties especially the companies and other source of pollutions who will allege that the statutes are malicious and arbitrary. The standard of proof further varies from one jurisdiction to another. In the United States for example, the regulatory bodies have not been able to curb some pollution arising from chemical production simply because they do not have the documentation to prove this as the burden of proof is on the regulators. In greater parts of Europe, the burden of proof is on the manufacture or source of the omission to prove that such substances are not harmful to the humans and the environment.
Merits and Limitations of Voluntary Approaches to Prevention and Remediation
These type of strategies encourage pollution reduction but do not compel parties to adhere to the recommendations. It takes many forms which include but not limited to negotiated agreements between governments and enterprises, self-regulatory mechanisms, environmental labelling and information disclosure programs.
Voluntary approach through self-regulation can preempt government regulation. By adopting a cost effective technology that is focused on reducing or eliminating pollution, a firm could impliedly inform the government that such mechanisms can be applied by other firms and the government can act by coming up with regulations to ensure the other firms adopt that kind of technology or mechanism. The self-regulation mechanism ensures that many firms comply to the codes of environmental conservation and sustainable development. This entails having a third body which provides for certification as per the agreement of the relevant firms in a given industry. The Responsible Care Program initiated by a Canadian chemical industry after a leak of methyl isocyanate at Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India which claimed over three thousand lives and left tens of thousands injured leading to public anxiety and outcry. This set up was to be later adopted by chemical industries in various countries.
Negotiated agreements can basically reduce the costs relative to passing and implementing a regulation. The agreements are basically deeds signed between firms and the government to ensure certain actions are taken to handle the challenge of harmful emissions to the environment. The agreements prove to be more appropriate in instances where the governments do not have the capacity to monitor and enforce the available environmental laws. The agreements are may act as prohibitory instruments that require companies in a given industry to cease from exhibiting some precise forms of pollution once the grace period has expired. The Rhine contract signed between the municipality of Rotterdam and certain polluters such as German Association of Chemical industries was entered so as certain reductions in level of toxic emissions was to be realized by 2010.
One of the demerits of voluntary approaches by firm is that the consumer realizes a limited or reduced line of products. Consumer choice is a vital power that is a feature of a competitive market. When this power is alienated from the consumer because of the limited range of products then it becomes a concern to them. Firms have voluntarily acted to eliminate their products which account for relatively high volumes of emissions. These products to some extent have not been sufficiently substituted in the market leaving the consumers with a narrow product range. Toyota Motor Corp, recalled over 3.37 million cars worldwide because of faulty emission control units and this is an example of such a scenario.
The effectiveness of voluntary approaches depends on the environmental target of the instrument and whether it is met or not. With the two approaches towards pollution prevention and remediation, the imperfect nature calls for non-profit organizations and political parties to be advocates of the environment and check on the activities by the industries and the governments. Both approaches depend on goodwill from all the players in matters concerning environment conservation and sustainable development. None of the two approaches seems more applicable in solving the contemporary environmental issues but a hybrid of both could ensure commitment and compliance in the quest to prevent remediate pollution of the environment.
Ahmed, R., & Segerson, K. (2011). Collective voluntary agreements to eliminate polluting products. Resource and Energy Economics, 33(3), 572-588.
Environmental Issues Series, Volume II, Case Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1997.
European Environment Agency. Environmental Agreements, Environmental Effectiveness,
Gamper-Rabindran, Shanti and Stephen Finger. 2013. “Does Industry Self-Regulation Reduce
Pollution? Responsible Care in the Chemical Industry,” Journal of Regulatory
Economics, 43: 1-30.