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Pollution Prevention Act (1990)

Pollution Prevention Act (1990)

The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 is a piece of legislation intended to limit the creation of pollution. As part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, the Pollution Prevention Act differed from previous legislation, which had generally treated pollution after it had been created. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator William K. Reilly strongly supported the act, believing that much hazardous or toxic pollution can be more effectively and economically controlled, and the environment protected more fully, if the pollution never occurs.

The impetus for this act lies in a 1986 EPA report to Congress entitled "Minimization of Hazardous Wastes." Based on this report, the agency began to take actions designed to reduce pollution. According to a subsequent report by the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), however, the EPA needed to do more. The two reports identified four main approaches to prevent pollution: (1) manufacturing changes, (2) equipment changes, (3) product reformulations and substitutions, and (4) improved industrial housekeeping. By using such approaches, companies (and individuals) can both save money by reducing pollution control costs and have a cleaner environment because certain pollution will be prevented. The corporation 3M, for instance, has saved over $300 million since 1975 by reducing air, water, and sludge pollutants at the source. The OTA estimated that a ten percent reduction in hazardous wastes per year for five years could be achieved through source reduction. The reports also found that pollution prevention is primarily hindered not by a lack of technology but rather by a lack of knowledge and awareness due to institutional hurdles. The Pollution Prevention Act was designed to help overcome these hurdles through information collection, assistance in technology transfer, and financial assistance to state pollution prevention programs.

In addition to developing a general strategy to promote the reduction of pollution at its source, the act crated a new EPA office to administer the program. The major provisions of the law are as follows: a state grant program to aid states in establishing similar pollution prevention programs; EPA technical assistance for business; the development of a Source Reduction Clearinghouse, administered by the EPA and available for public use, to help in the collection and distribution of source reduction information; the establishment of an advisory committee on the issue; the creation of a training program on pollution prevention; and the creation of annual awards to businesses that achieve outstanding source reduction. Businesses using toxic substances were required to meet special standards--to report on how many and the amount of toxic substances released into the environment, how much recycled, how they attempted to prevent the generation of toxic pollutants, and how they learned of source reduction techniques. Lastly, the EPA is to report biennially on the effectiveness of the new program and its components. The Act authorized $16 million each year for three years for the EPA to implement this program.

[Christopher McGrory Klyza ]



Environmental Quality: 21st Annual Report. Council on Environmental Quality. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1990.


"Budget Reconciliation Act Provisions." Congressional Quarterly Almanac 46 (1990): 141163.


"Pollution Prevention Act of 1990." Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Senate Report 101-526, 1990, 101st Congress, 2d Session.

"Waste Reduction Act." House Committee on Energy and Commerce, House Report 101-555, 1990, 101st Congress, 2d Session.

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