Using Economic Incentives to Regulate Toxic Substances

By Molly K. Macauley; Michael D. Bowes et al. | Go to book overview
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More than 60,000 chemicals (excluding pharmaceuticals or pesticides) enter into the many products and services that shape today's life-styles. Taken together, these chemicals compromise a huge industry -- in the United States alone, sales during 1990 were over $200 billion. The sheer variety, ubiquity, and economic importance of chemicals means that effective regulation to safeguard against undesirable health or environmental side effects is quite challenging.

Traditionally, regulation to bring about these safeguards has taken the form of "command and control" -- that is, banning or restricting the production or use of a chemical, requiring the substance to be reformulated, mandating recycling of the substance when exposure occurs during disposal, or otherwise restricting its use and distribution.1 For example, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) prohibits the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, and use of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBS) because of evidence that they pose a significant risk to public health and the environment.2 Similarly under TSCA, most uses of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as aerosol propellants have been banned because CFCs may deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, which could lead to an increase in skin cancer, cataracts, and other adverse health and ecological effects.

TSCA is almost unique among environmental regulations in requiring that economic considerations be explicitly included in any actions taken under the act. Among the other six major statutes under

Typically in the literature on environmental regulation, "command and control" refers to the regulator's specification of control technologies or performance standards that producers must adopt. In the case of toxic substances, command and control has most frequently taken the form of output or other mandated restrictions such as those described above. See Schultze ( 1977) for one of the seminal discussions of command and control in the context of environmental regulation.
By the early 1990s, the riskiness of the toxicity of PCBs was being reevaluated.


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