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[ Home > Resources > Pollution Prevention ]

POLLUTION PREVENTION

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"Pollution prevention pays," President Bill Clinton has observed, echoing the observations and experience of several of the nation's leading corporations.  And increasingly the nation is coming to understand prevention's value -- as an environmental strategy, as a sustainable business practice, as a fundamental principle for all our society.

Pollution Prevention, or "P2," is the environmental policy of the United States the environmental policy of the United States, as articulated by the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 and as confirmed by all Presidential administrations since.

As this new pollution prevention strategy will suggest, P2 is also a vehicle for "reinventing" traditional Agency programs and devising innovative alternative strategies to protect public health and the environment.   It is a key element of new EPA initiatives to protect our children's health, to promote environmental justice and urban environmental quality, to empower state and tribal programs, to encourage corporate eco-efficiency, to preserve ecosystems and to demonstrate the results and benefits of our labors.

What Pollution Prevention Is

EPA essentially equates pollution prevention with source reduction -- preventing pollution before it is created, so there is less or no need to control, treat, or dispose of it.  EPA clarified the definition of pollution prevention in a memo from the Deputy Administrator in May 1992.  It is critical that we maintain this focus on source reduction, especially as environmental and other federal policy increasingly embraces sustainable development concepts.

The Evolution of Prevention at EPA

It was perhaps less than 20 years ago that the only measurable aspect of pollution prevention at EPA was its waste minimization activity.   In the early 1980's, prevention was largely limited to a few specific facility projects, where some companies were able to identify and pick prevention's "low-hanging fruit" or easy successes.  By the late 1980's, the prevention concept had attracted and galvanized EPA policy makers, as it entered a second phase.    This phase was highlighted by the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 and a series of EPA prevention-specific programs, such as the Pollution Prevention Incentives for States grant program and the Pollution Prevention Information Clearinghouse.

By the mid 1990's, the Agency had shifted into a third phase -- greater institutionalization of prevention approaches into its mainstream activities, including regulations, permitting, technical assistance, compliance and enforcement.  Administrator Carol Browner'sP2 Policy Statement, in April 1993, heralded this commitment.  "Today, we continue to progress in this stage, and the Agency, every day, finds more ways to prevent pollution at its source.  Our ultimate goal, however, is to make P2 a standard operating practice in all aspects and sectors of our society.  There is likely to be no other way by which we can sustain our economic well-being, our natural environment, and, in the long run, our very survival as a species."

The Current Imperative to Do More!

Although the Agency is on a path toward its P2 goal, progress has not been easy and we are far from making pollution prevention the standard way of doing business.  Consequently, we need to do more, and this strategy sets general directions for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to affirm and increase its commitment to pollution prevention.  It presents a template of thematic P2 objectives, which the Agency's various programs should use as a framework for their own ongoing and accelerating efforts to make prevention the principle of first choice in all of EPA's work.  It is also intended as a guide to Agency actions for and with industry, states and tribes, the environmental, academic and other communities interested in EPA's P2 direction.