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Reason Foundation

Simplify, Simplify

Alternative Environmental Permitting at the State Level

Christopher A. Hartwell
February 1, 1999

Executive Summary

Environmental regulation has suffered from a one-size-fits-all mentality, with prescriptive regulations applied across industries. Traditional environmental regulations have two central features. First, they require regulated industries to comply with one-size-fits-all prescriptions aimed at reducing pollution. Second, they require that industries obtain permits demonstrating compliance at each emission source. But permits are no guarantee of actual environmental improvement, for they use a proxy goal rather than tangible environmental improvements as a barometer of success.

States are now exploring alternatives to traditional, often cumbersome permitting practices that include:

Each of these reforms has been instituted in an attempt to circumvent some of the perverse incentives that ordinary command-and-control permits can create, such as high costs, bureaucratic inertia, industry resistance, and stifling of innovation.

Specific application of these reforms has come in many states:

While all of these reforms share the goal of easing administrative burdens on the regulators and the regulated, more importantly they seek a way to provide a greater level of environmental protection with less government interference. By utilizing more-efficient institutions and structuring incentives in a manner to involve the private sector, architects of alternative permit schemes explore better ways to protect the environment.

In order to implement successful innovations in permitting, states should follow these guidelines:

Once these guidelines have been adhered to, the following procedural steps will help facilitate innovation:

Following this checklist will not guarantee success of an innovative program, but these criteria will lessen the chances of failure. For, as these states have shown, innovation is experimentation.


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