Comparative Technology Transfer and Society 1.2 (2003) 166
[Access article in PDF]
Notes from the Field
The paper An Assessment of the Exchange of New Technology between Environmental Agencies and Business with the Pronoia Technology Transfer Framework correctly applies a new collaborative paradigm to environmental compliance. In advocating nonadversarial relations between environmental compliance agencies and corporations, it reflects more general societal trends toward alternative dispute resolution and participative management—including environmental management thinking—within contemporary corporations. Given the increased complexity and magnitude of environmental issues facing the United States today, this collaborative and voluntary managerial approach needs to be extended to enforcement of environmental laws by federal and state regulatory agencies. Generally speaking, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) "command and control" approach, as it is often called, assumes that the EPA's legitimate purpose of protecting human health and the environment can best be achieved through enforcement (perhaps punitive), given that (as another assumption) the business community has not shown sufficient trust over a large spectrum of companies over a broad enough time period to have earned the right to benefit from the new paradigm.
Although these assumptions may have been true a quarter century ago when the EPA first began to enforce environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, current corporate practice is becoming more focused on voluntary compliance with environmental safeguards. Given that this is the case, the EPA must learn to change from a punitive to a collaborative paradigm. The new collaboration paradigm is based on trust, including that of regulators for voluntary compliance by regulated industries. Given my years of experience in this area, I am not sure that change will be easily accomplished. This is because the EPA's culture of enforcement and confrontation has become well entrenched over the years, as have corporate attitudes of resistance. As long as regulators believe that the private sector cannot be trusted to comply with laws and regulations, and will try to hide illegal actions at every turn, the new collaborative paradigm will not work. Change this way of thinking and a new cooperative era will dawn.
Michael Mutnan was an employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for 18 years and worked in several regions and offices across the country, including with the National Enforcement Investigations Center (NEIC). He received the Bronze Medal for meritorious service with the agency. He now consults with private industry and was an Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) manager with a manufacturing facility in Denver, Colorado for over three years. He has over 30 years of environmental industry experience and is a Professional Engineer (P.E.). He can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.