How Voluntary Environmental Programs Reduce Pollution

Published date01 July 2018
Date01 July 2018
How Voluntary Environmental Programs Reduce Pollution 537
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 78, Iss. 4, pp. 537–544. © 2017 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12832.
Aseem Prakash is professor of political
science, Walker Family Professor in the
College of Arts and Sciences, and founding
director of the Center for Environmental
Politics at the University of Washington,
William McGuire is assistant
professor of economics at the University of
Washington Tacoma.
Phi Cong Hoang is a graduate student
in the Terry College of Business at the
University of Georgia.
Abstract: This article investigates the mechanisms that voluntary environmental program (VEP) participants adopt
to reduce pollution. The focus of this article is the 33/50 program, a VEP introduced by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency in 1991 and discontinued in 1995. The program called for emissions reductions for 17 chemicals
reported to the Toxics Release Inventory. Using a sample of approximately 12,000 plants, the relationship between 33/50
program participation and adoption of pollution reduction practices is studied for three time periods, 1991–1995
(program life), 1996–2004, and 2005–2013. These practices include source reduction activities (SRAs) and recycling,
recovery, and treatment (RRTs). The major findings are that during the program s life, 33/50 participants showed
increased adoption of SRAs and RRTs for both targeted and nontargeted chemicals. However, once the program ended,
higher adoption rates persisted for RRTs only, with a shift in emphasis toward treatment over recycling and recovery.
Evidence for Practice
Voluntary environmental programs (VEPs) such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency s 33/50
program can increase the adoption of both ex post and ex ante pollution reduction measures.
VEPs such as the 33/50 program can have “legacy” effects, producing sustained increases in the adoption of
ex post pollution reduction measures even after the program has ended.
Outcome-focused VEPs such as the 33/50 program can have a “crowding out” effect, leading participants to
focus on less desirable pollution reduction processes.
William McGuire
University of Washington Tacoma
Phi Cong Hoang
University of Georgia
Aseem Prakash
University of Washington, Seattle
How Voluntary Environmental
Programs Reduce Pollution
G overnmental regulations along with voluntary
environmental programs (VEPs) seek to
persuade firms to reduce pollution. Firms can
achieve that environmental objective in several ways.
Broadly, they can undertake ex ante interventions
that ensure that less pollution is produced during
their value addition processes. Alternatively, they
can invest in ex post (end of pipeline) measures that
recycle, recover, or treat waste so that it does not
enter the pollution stream. In what ways might VEPs
incentivize specific pathways to pollution reduction?
VEPs encourage firms to voluntarily commit
to environmental policies that are beyond the
requirements of law. Scholars have debated why firms
join VEPs and whether VEPs motivate participants
to reduce pollution (King and Lenox 2000 ; Lyon and
Maxwell 2007 ; McGuire 2014 ; Morgenstern and
Pizer 2007 ; Prakash and Potoski 2006 ; Rivera and
deLeon 2004 ). This article focuses on a relatively
underexplored aspect of VEPs: the mechanisms by
which VEP participants seek to reduce pollution. This
question is important because although command
and control regulations sometimes prescribe specific
pathways and technologies for regulatees (Cole and
Grossman 1999 ), VEPs tend to be less prescriptive in
this regard.
This article examines the 33/50 program, a VEP
introduced by the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) in 1991 and, given its experimental
nature, discontinued in 1995. The 33/50 program
targeted 17 highly toxic chemicals, a subset of the
chemicals listed under the Toxics Release Inventory
(TRI) Program. With 1988 emissions as the baseline,
33/50 program participants pledged to reduce
emissions of the targeted chemicals by 33 percent by
the end of 1992 and 50 percent by the end of 1995
(EPA 1992, 1997). The EPA used the program to
“encourage” the adoption of pollution prevention
measures and “to foster a pollution prevention ethic”
(EPA 1997). However, the EPA also made it clear that
emissions reductions achieved through any means
would count equally toward the emissions reductions
goal (Zatza and Harbour 1999 ).
Previous works have debated whether the 33/50
program successfully reduced emissions. This article
moves the discussion of VEPs forward by exploring
how such emission reductions were achieved, whether
Research Article

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