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Regulatory Reinvention and Project XL: Does the Emperor Have Any Clothes?

October 1996

Citation: 26 ELR 10527

Issue: 10

Author: Rena I. Steinzor


Project XL is built on the simple premise that in many cases companies know their business a whole lot better than the government does; that they understand how best to reduce their own pollution; that we will all benefit if private enterprise brings its energy, its innovation, its creativity to the task of reducing pollution ….

President Clinton1

If it isn't illegal, it isn't XL.

Motto of EPA staff2

The 1994 Republican electoral revolution crystallized and accelerated a trend in environmental policymaking that began at the beginning of the decade: "reinventing" the ways that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does business. The Clinton Administration's decision to offer its own alternatives to more radical efforts suggested by congressional Republicans means that the methods and goals of reinvention will dominate the debate for the foreseeable future, and that the various work groups, pilot projects, scholarly reviews, and legislative proposals now involve virtually all of the interests affected by EPA's programs and legal authority.3

Among the most widely publicized reinvention initiatives is Project XL, developed by EPA in response to industry and municipal demands for greater regulatory flexibility. Hailed by the President and Vice President at a press conference on November 3, 1995, Project XL—standing for "excellence and leadership"—now involves four distinct initiatives: one focused on large manufacturing companies; a second designed for "industry-wide" or "sector-based" projects; a third involving federal agencies; and a fourth emphasizing local government, "community-based" initiatives.4 This Dialogue discusses the first and best-developed initiative, the so-called facilities XL.5

Rena I. Steinzor is an Associate Professor and Director of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Maryland Law School. She is a 1976 graduate of the Columbia Law School. She is grateful for the advice provided by Robert Percival, David Hyman, Linda Greer, and Christopher van Loben Sels and the research assistance provided by Elana Cohen. Any mistakes in facts or analysis are, of course, the exclusive responsibility of the author.

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