Breath of Clarity

Environmental Policy Analysis Discussion #8: B

Rosenbaum evaluates how 24 federal toxic waste polices function together to address various types of toxic substances. He included a comprehensive problem definition by showing the degree to which toxic substances are produced and spread. He proceeds to highlight insufficiencies of the four primary policies: the Toxic Substances and Control Act (TSCA); the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA); the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA); and the Food Qualities Protection Act (FQPA). He begins by thoroughly explaining a key shortcoming of TSCA is its overwhelming to-do list, as administrative barriers to moving through the process leads to accumulation of chemicals that still need to be tested (Rosenbaum 2020). Specifically, Rosenbaum brings the discussion of stakeholders into the equation by explaining the complex evaluation system in place requires collaboration between scientists, congressional members, and the public in order to develop an inclusive perspective on the chemical (Rosenbaum 2020). From there, he goes on to say the other four regulations are inadequate because as they do not have the personnel and funding required to put a bandaid on the main issue of toxic chemical manufacturing (Rosenbaum 2020). Rosenbaum even notes, although RCRA involves the states as key enforcers, the toxic waste problem is too vast to rely on command-and-control (Rosenbaum 2020). CERCLA emphasizes the need for a proactive solution as yet another law aimed to cleanup harmful substances after they have been created is unmanageable (Rosenbaum 2020). Lastly, he brings in the FQPA and EPCRA to show an attempt of regulators to simply notify the public closely before food consumption. By emphasizing the role of stakeholders, he showed the government resorted to displaying information publicly and assigning consumer responsibility to the health crisis. By defining the legislation based on the degree to which the legislation tackles the toxic waste problem’s source and attempts to exercise federal control, Rosenbaum leads his readers to his conclusion that the policies are ineffective.

I agree with Rosenbaum’s conclusions and suggest the government uses economic incentives to compliment command-and-control. Regulatory complexity combined with litigiousness delayed the implementation of most regulations far beyond the schedules envisioned by Congress (Harrison and Morgenstern 2004). Further, economic incentives are generally more efficient in terms of resulting in a lower unit cost of abatement (Harrison and Morgenstern 2004). Additionally, economic incentives result in greater continuing innovation overtime (Harrison and Morgenstern 2004). For example, the Swedish NOx tax induced experimentation in boiler operations led to substantial reductions in NOx emissions (Harrison and Morgenstern 2004). Also, cases show economic incentives achieve objectives more quickly and with greater certainty (Harrison and Morgenstern 2004). For example, in the Dutch water case, the influence of hefty fees on organic waste-load reductions was prompt and large (Harrison and Morgenstern 2004). Based on Rosenbaum’s analysis, support from industry stakeholders who push for the production of toxic substances is lacking as the government cannot handle enforcement required amidst all the administrative loopholes. Therefore, incentives are needed to strengthen productivity of toxic waste reduction policy.


Harrington, Winston and Morgenstern, Richard. 2004. “Economic Incentives versus Command and Control.” Resources for the Future.Fall/Winter.

Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2020. Environmental Politics and Policy, 11th ed. Los Angeles, California: Sage.

Comment by Ashley Staat:


I agree that a combination of economic incentives and command-and-control would be a better approach to CERCLA to address the backlog of chemicals and administrative loopholes. The EPA discusses several ways to approach regulation with economic incentives. One example they give is subsidies for pollution control. These incentives would be financial support from the federal government for activities polluters engage in that are environmentally friendly. This could be something like low-interest loans, favorable tax treatment, and procurement mandates. These are typically used for brownfield development after clean-up projects have been completed at the state level (EPA 2020). I think that for CERCLA, maybe the federal government could create incentives for state’s that have abandoned sites they are required to cost share the clean up. That way state’s have the incentive to clean up the contaminated sites. How do you think that toxic waste could be reduced through incentives?

EPA. 2020. “Economic Incentives.” Accessed November 5.

Comment by Professor Morgan:


Thanks for introducing the Resources for the Future reference. Economic methods in combination with command and control is an interesting approach, although the examples you cite might better be called economic dis-incentives rather than economic incentives.

Comment by Sarah Piesco:


I like your discussion of using incentives to compliment command-and-control approaches. The Hoover Institution has suggested the implementation of a permit market for regulating toxic waste disposal. While traditional permit systems have a separate market for each pollutant, the author notes that it would be more effective for hazardous waste control if the government were to establish a single market for all wastes, with the required number of permits varying with the hazards of the substance (The Hoover Institution). “For example, the least hazardous substances could require only one permit for a one-pound release, but substances deemed twice as dangerous would require two permits for a one-pound release” (The Hoover Institution). According to the EPA, market permit systems are cost-effective because they allow flexibility to either reduce toxins or purchase permits from others (EPA 2020). Do you think a permit system would help with controlling hazardous waste in the U.S.?


U.S. EPA. 2020. “Economic Incentives.” Accessed November 8, 2020. (Links to an external site.).

The Hoover Institution. “Reforming Hazardous Waste Policy.” Accessed November 8, 2020.

Comment #1:

Original Post by Chris Bonham:

While there are 12 federal agencies that oversee a total of 24 federal toxic waste policies, the primary five include: the Toxic Substances and Control Act (TSCA); the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA); the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA); and the Food Qualities Protection Act (FQPA). These five laws are intended to create a “cradle to grave” regulation of toxic and hazardous wastes (Rosenbaum 2020, 204).

TSCA’s main goal is to regulate the creation, manufacture, and distribution of hazardous chemicals and limit their exposure and health risk to humans and the natural environment. TSCA does this by: collecting data; screening new chemicals; chemical testing; and controlling harsh chemicals along with asbestos. TSCA has a complex system to determine if chemicals qualify for evaluation under their Integrated Risk Information Systems or (IRIS). IRIS involves several levels of stakeholder collaboration between scientists, congressional members, and the public in order to develop an inclusive perspective on the chemical. However, due to its limited funding and staffing, TSCA has a difficult time keeping up with the sheer number of chemicals to be evaluated (Rosenbaum 2020, 210-211).

RCRA aims to regulate current hazardous solid wastes from endangering the public or natural environment. RCRA develops criteria for safe toxic waste disposal; regulates hazardous wastes; encourages a reduction in use; involves the states; and sets deadlines for reviews. Unfortunately, RCRA also suffers from lack of funding and staff to adequately and efficiently address all current issues.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) aims to address and clean up all older hazardous waste sites and hold responsible parties financially accountable for their actions. CERCLA collects data; responds to hazardous emergency situations; uses a Superfund for clean ups; and then seeks to hold responsible parties liable. While Superfund has had success, there is still much work to be done as funding and staff is limited (Rosenbaum 2020, 213-219).

FQPA seeks to regulate the pesticide residues on food by: developing a single standard; tightening existing standards; account for children provisions; provide endocrine testing; and promoting the consumers right to know about their food production. It is EPCRA however, that mainly focuses on consumers rights to know and thus has developed a Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) available for public review (Rosenbaum, 2020, 220-221; 204).

These five toxic chemical laws tend to overlap in many ways however cover the essential basis for hazardous chemical regulation from cradle to grave in the US. I agree with Rosenbaum’s (2020, 224-225) analysis and reasoning for slow implementation of these policies, as the complexity and sheer number of toxic chemicals to be evaluated is astronomical. In addition, to be accurate, much of the scientific data can take years or even decades to acquire and there is always the debate as to whether the site has been completely rectified or needs more work. Finally, Rosenbaum (2020, 224-225) goes on to indicate that the individual states and court proceedings can also delay the response to environmental toxic waste disasters. Even with all of the above substantial policies, there is a long way to go before toxic chemicals are going to be considered completely “under control.”

Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2020. Environmental Politics and Policy, 11th ed. Los Angeles, California: Sage.

My Comment:

Hi Chris,

Great job highlighting how slow implementation is linked to a large number of toxic chemicals still needing to be evaluated. It made me think of how already discovered science is utilized to create a sense of urgency in other global climate change policy. However, Rosenbaum portrays scientific data as a requisite to prohibit hazardous chemicals from even entering into the equation and depicts it seems as though science is playing a role of delay in toxic waste policy implementation. Is there more regulators can do with the scientific data about toxic waste chemicals that has already been gathered? Also, do you think that the speedier acquisition of scientific data would actually result in better toxic waste policy implementation? How would the stakeholders who factor into the role of individual states and court proceedings contribute to your opinion?

Response by Chris Bonham:

Hi Mary,

Thanks for the comment and great questions. Unfortunately, I believe there must be a trade-off or balancing act between detailing thorough and accurate scientific study results and developing effective policy. It seems to me it is very difficult to have achieve both and a medium must be found. Rosenbaum (2020, 205) discusses how accurate scientific results can be difficult and expensive to determine the long-term social and environmental health effects from hazardous chemicals, possibly decades or more. On the other hand, politicians are looking immediate satisfaction to appease the shifting political, environmental, and socio-economic conditions of the time (Rosenbaum 2020, 103-104).

Therefore, it would seem in order to make effective policy with accurate results, a line must be drawn at some point in the research in order to relay the data over to policymakers with enough time under the current political conditions to create the policy. I don’t particularly feel trying to speed-up scientific research would particularly result in better toxic waste policy, I believe it would only skew the results. However, as Rosenbaum (2020, 104) points out, policymaking is grounded in an institutional design that shapes and limits its outcomes. In other words, there is a time and a place to achieve success with policymaking but if that window of opportunity is missed, it might never come around again. Therefore, I can see in some cases where scientific results must be concluded early to the best of the scientists ability in order to meet certain policymaking windows. For example, I am very glad the policymakers of the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act did not wait decades more for further detailed scientific results and acted when they did or we would have suffered more than we already are.

I would think most stakeholders, (at least the ones on the environmental side), would agree that it is important to achieve high-quality scientific results that reflect true long-term impacts to society and the environment but at the same time, want a policy passed as soon as possible. I would conclude that this is more the reason to include stakeholders in the policymaking process. In a recent study, McCauley (2015) found that at least for waste management policy making in England, developing inclusive policymaking frameworks that include stakeholders has proven extremely beneficial. Overall though, it seems to me at some point, a trade-off or line must be drawn between further scientific research and submitting the data to policymakers. However, that is not to say further research cannot take place and if additional relevant information is obtained, that should relayed to policymakers for amendments.

McCauley, Darren. 2015. “Sustainable Development in Energy Policy: A Governance Assessment of Environmental Stakeholder Inclusion in Waste‐to‐Energy.” Sustainable Development 23, no. 5: 273-84. (Links to an external site.)

Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2020. Environmental Politics and Policy, 11th ed. Los Angeles, California: Sage.

Comment #2:

Original Post by Taylor Joy:

Rosenbaum mentions that there are currently 24 federal laws and 12 federal agencies that regulate the manufacturing, distribution, and disposal of toxic wastes (Rosenbaum 2020, 204). He describes the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) and the Food Qualities Protection Act (FQPA). He also describes the difficulty in passing these laws because of the huge undertaking regulating chemicals turned out to be and not fully understanding how to regulate chemicals that were already on the market and possibly going to be on the market in the future (Rosenbaum 2020, 204). To analyze these acts, he looks at how Love Canal is involved in each of them and connects the laws that way. I thought it made it easy to understand and helped tie all of the laws together.

Rosenbaum starts his conclusion by saying, “In no other major area of environmental policy is progress measured in such modest increments as the regulation of toxic and hazardous waste” (Rosenbaum 2020, 223). He then goes on to explain how because no other programs have to try and regulate possibly thousands of hidden and highly toxic substances, these programs have a unique and challenging problem (Rosenbaum 2020, 224). And, while it is important to have programs that cover each aspect of the production, regulation, and distribution of chemicals, the implementation of these programs can be slow because it requires many different steps to do so (Rosenbaum 2020, 223). I do agree with Rosenbaum’s conclusion of the importance of the slower process for the regulation of these chemicals (Rosenbaum 2020, 223). As mentioned, he says that there could be well into the thousands of chemicals which creates a next to an impossible regulation scenario. He also mentions that the data for toxicity reports takes years to complete as well (Rosenbaum 2020, 223). While I agree with his emphasis on the importance of taking the production, regulation, and distribution of these chemicals slowly to ensure safety, we know that this is not currently what happens. The NDRC says that there are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market currently and most have not been tested for human health impacts (NRDC). If the process takes years, but markets move faster, a policy set up to take years will not properly regulate the chemicals. While I am not sure there is a better way to regulate them, I do think that a faster process may be more beneficial for the environment and human health. (Links to an external site.)

Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2020. Environmental Politics and Policy, 11th ed. Los Angeles, California: Sage.

My Comment:

Hi Taylor,

Thanks for bringing in the source from the NRDC.

The NRDC is part of the National PFAS Contamination Coalition aiming to combat current toxic substance issues. However, according to The Guardian, the federal government is pushing for an exemption allowing companies to bypass an EPA law meant to address widespread contamination from perflourinated chemicals (Holden 2020). Specifically, lawmakers said manufacturers should be required to report to the government if they release 100 pounds or more of the chemicals annually into a waterway but EPA’s new regulation would allow them to bypass that requirement (Holden 2020). Furthermore, the EPA is also skipping the usual step of allowing the public to comment before finalizing the rule (Holden 2020).

Still, Clean Cape Fear, a North Carolina-based group in the coalition, discovered chemicals in its water after years of contamination from a Dupont manufacturing plant now owned by Chemours and is urging communities to know what is happening in their areas so they can self advocate (Holden 2020).


Holden, Emily. 2020. “US Moves to Exempt Companies From Reporting Harmful Chemical Releases”. The Guardian. Accessed November 4.

Response by Taylor Joy:


It is concerning to see how many chemicals are in drinking water. I test drinking water currently as an environmental laboratory analyst and you would be surprised how many things show up in what is supposed to be clean drinking water. I think self-advocating is important especially because it may very well be that no one else cares about the issue except the community it is happening to. So self-advocating may be the best way to make changes happen.

My Response:

Hi Taylor,

That is so awesome you test drinking water for your job! It is great considering people desire purity in water relative to other drinks. I agree self-advocacy is crucial to putting issues onto the agenda. The importance of self-advocating was amazingly illustrated by the Love Canal. Considering adversity is a main issue faced in the environmental movement, there is a need for people to be persistent while self-advocating, as well.

Response by Jess Gilbert:

Mary and Taylor,

This is incredibly concerning that the EPA is trying to bypass having companies report on their toxic chemical releases, and even more so that they are skipping a public comment period. This is just one more lenience that the federal government is giving to corporations across the country to pollute unregulated and to save the corporations extra money. Do you think that state governments could take up the mantle and force this requirement on corporations within their own borders instead?