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Environmental Data on the Internet: A Wired Public Setting Environmental Policy

February 2000

Citation: ELR 10122

Author: Peter L. Gray

During its first 15 years of existence, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sought to improve environmental quality through conventional "end-of-pipe" command and control regulation. In the late 1980s, EPA shifted to a new paradigm in environmental protection: to enhance environmental protection by encouraging "voluntary" pollution prevention. EPA believes that if companies are given the appropriate incentive they will identify the best control for the least cost. Emissions trading under the Clean Air Act (CAA)1 is an example of an appropriate incentive.

The focus of this Dialogue is an inappropriate incentive: EPA's attempt to create public pressure on industry to reduce pollution through "right-to-know." Give the public information on the nature and amount of chemicals that industry releases into the environment, the theory goes, and the public will motivate industry to reduce pollution in a way that EPA cannot—by protesting, by boycotting and, most importantly, by shining the media's spotlight on the company. President Clinton articulated this "public pressure paradigm" on October 30, 1999, during his weekly radio address: "By requiring industries to tell communities how much they pollute the air and water, we empower citizens to fight back, and create a powerful incentive for industry to pollute less."2

The author is a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of McKenna & Cuneo, where he specializes in environmental regulation and litigation. He may be contacted at peter_gray@mckennacuneo.com.

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