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Reason Foundation

Environmental Flexibility in Action

A Minnesota Case Study

Christopher A. Hartwell and David W. Riggs
January 1, 2000

Executive Summary

Over the past few decades, Minnesota has generally followed a command-and-control approach to managing and protecting its environment. Once an environmental problem was identified, regulators prescribed uniform pollution-control remedies and environmental standards across the state. This approach to managing the environment commanded a growing share of resources.

But the advent of differing and varied environmental problems, coupled with the shortcomings of commandand- control regulations, prompted Minnesota’s environmental authority⎯the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)⎯to begin adopting a new vision of environmental policy. State regulators and others are exploring new ways to utilize environmental protection dollars more effectively and efficiently.

Three case studies highlight the MPCA’s move toward flexibility in protecting the environment. These programs emphasize attaining environmental performance goals instead of relying solely on traditional punitive measures and compliance with prescribed standards:

Besides demonstrating an effective alternative to traditional command-and-control regulation, the Minnesota experience also illustrates some of the challenges faced by those orchestrating a shift to more flexible, results-focused policy. Other states that are interested in moving away from command-and-control methods can profit from the lessons that Minnesota learned:

Allowing Minnesotans the freedom to discover innovative ways to meet environmental goals should lead to large environmental gains. This means allowing individuals and businesses the freedom to decide how they will achieve pollution reduction. Market-based solutions, such as the Rahr example of point-to-nonpoint trading and the Andersen project, allow people to find better and cheaper ways to treat waste.


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