Academic journal article Environmental Law

Streams of Environmental Innovation: Four Decades of EPA Policy Reform

Academic journal article Environmental Law

Streams of Environmental Innovation: Four Decades of EPA Policy Reform

Article excerpt

I.   INTRODUCTION II.  THE CONCEPT OF ENVIRONMENTAL INNOVATION III. STREAMS OF ENVIRONMENTAL INNOVATION      A. Emissions Trading      B. Program Integration      C. Risk-Based Planning      D. Regulatory Flexibility      E. Partnerships and Voluntary Programs IV.  PATTERNS IN ENVIRONMENTAL INNOVATION 


The idea of innovation has become almost a mantra for all organizations, public and private. The world is changing rapidly and organizations must adapt. For the private sector, economic relationships change, customers demand new products and services, technologies become outdated, and pressure from competitors is relentless. For public agencies, demands for efficiency and quality increase, budgets become more constrained, political executives want measurable results, and citizens want greater engagement. Doing things a certain way because that was how they were done in the past is no longer acceptable. The white water conditions of modern society demand innovation.

This innovation imperative would seem as or more relevant to organizations in the field of environmental policy. Indeed, the concept of the environment raises some of the most dynamic and rapidly changing issues faced by government. Forty years ago, air and water pollution from large industrial sources were defined as the main environmental problem. (1) Then, abandoned hazardous waste sites, residential radon, and ozone-depleting chemicals were added to the fist. (2) More recently, climate change, energy and water security, deforestation, and habitat loss have figured more prominently on policy agendas. (3) Along with a growing list of problems has come a reconceptualization of the policy field more generally. Concerns about environmental protection have largely been replaced with a greater focus on environmental sustainability, in recognition of the complex interrelationships that exist among economic, political, and social choices. (4)

The institutional and social aspects of environmental policy also have changed. Reflecting, in part, the ideas of "new" public management, problem solving is viewed in most developed countries not just as the responsibility of government but of a range of institutions in society. (5) Leading firms have moved from a culture of resisting regulation to internalizing it and moving beyond compliance in their environmental performance. (6) Nonprofit organizations and collaborative institutions play an increasingly prominent role in finding and promoting solutions. From an initial focus on hierarchical, expert-based regulation, environmental policy in most countries increasingly incorporates economic incentives, information-based approaches, public-private partnerships, as well as other tools. (7) At the same time, the resources available to government agencies are falling as compared to the number of environmental problems they confront. (8) In sum, the innovation imperative common to all organizations is alive and well in environmental policy.

Despite this imperative, innovation as an area of systematic study has drawn only scattered attention from environmental policy practitioners and researchers. To be sure, many studies of specific innovations exist, and several are discussed below. (9) The task of defining and categorizing policy innovation generally, however, has drawn less attention. What types of innovation have been attempted? What have been their objectives? How have they evolved? What explains their success or failure? What are their assumptions and conceptual foundations? What lessons for policy design and implementation may be drawn from them? The purpose of this Article is to begin to answer such questions by setting out a basic framework for describing and studying environmental policy innovation.

This Article is organized around the concept of "streams" of environmental innovation. Streams refer not to specific innovations but to categories of innovation that share characteristics. …

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