Final Report: Advising, Monitoring, and Evaluating a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Pilot Project for Flexible, Multi-media Permitting

EPA Grant Number: R824754
Title: Advising, Monitoring, and Evaluating a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Pilot Project for Flexible, Multi-media Permitting
Investigators: Marcus, Alfred , Geffen, Donald , Sexton, Ken
Institution: University of Minnesota
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: October 1, 1995 through September 30, 1997
Project Amount: $255,000
RFA: Incentives and Impediments to Pollution Prevention (1995) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Human Health , Sustainability , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development


This project examined impasses in the movement toward a new competence in environmental management through lessons from Project XL (eXcellence and Leadership) Minnesota. Impasse is more common in our society when dealing with complex social problems than its opposite, breakthroughs. Impasse is common in diplomacy, in budgeting, and in dealing with cantankerous issues like health care and tax reform. Impasse also affects the corporate world. The movement from one set of technologies and administrative arrangements to another rarely occurs without difficulty. There are obstacles in the journey and many barriers, which have to be overcome. Incremental progress and learning may accompany a deadlock, but the hoped for progress in achieving a new managerial competence is stalled and the new competence itself is only imperfectly realized.

When it comes to relations between business and government, impasse is especially irksome. A history of adversarial relations and mistrust often prevents useful reforms from being introduced. While businesses increasingly have developed new managerial competencies by working closely with their suppliers, customers, and employees, and by forming alliances and joint ventures with traditional rivals and competitors, businesses and governments have not been as successful in moving rapidly toward such mutually beneficial arrangements. Ways of relating that would make both sectors more effective and efficient are only beginning to be widely adopted.

The inability to leap forward at a faster pace leads to frustration and disappointment among parties that have been trying to change old patterns of behavior and create new ones. Stalemate may prevent citizens from reaping greater environmental benefits at lower costs in the present, and impede society from learning about the tools it needs to manage environmental problems in the future.

Despite its ubiquity, stalemate has not been commonly studied in the social sciences. Though worthy of separate investigation, no adequate theory or explanation for it exists. The purpose of this study is to start to develop such a theory by working from the ground up and carrying out a detailed examination of a specific case that ended in impasse. The case deals with efforts to create a new competence in environmental management under the auspices of Project XL Minnesota.

The Clinton administration initiated Project XL on March 16, 1995. It was one of 25 actions the administration took "to produce a new era of cleaner, cheaper, and smarter environmental management." The intent was to create innovative alternatives to present regulation that would achieve enhanced environmental protection and promote vibrant economic growth. XL was one of a series of regulatory initiatives that the administration proposed that emphasized partnerships that would rely on teamwork and trust. For a new competence in environmental management to be realized, a higher level of trust would have to be achieved among businesses, governments, and communities.

Regulatory agencies, businesses, and affected communities must develop a new competence in environmental management to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The increasingly complex and difficult environmental problems that confront human beings demand that these historic antagonists learn to work together to achieve common goals. They must mutually acquire the ability to participate constructively in integrated environmental decision making, taking shared responsibility and learning to combine and coordinate their involvement in environmental decisions through a collegial process that is fair and inclusive and that leads to cooperative and sustainable outcomes.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

As part of this new competence, environmental management should be results oriented. Emphasis should be placed on prevention rather than after-the-fact intervention. There should be more flexibility in how environmental goals are achieved. The new competence involves taking an ecological perspective, looking at problems comprehensively, understanding that "everything is connected to everything else," and seeking holistic solutions. Under the new competence, unilateral decisions by a central authority are no longer the norm; instead, governments, businesses, affected communities, and other stakeholders should work together to tailor effective and efficient solutions to the problem at hand. The results would be more "win-win" solutions that are good for both the environment and the economy.

This analysis used a case study of the XL pilot at 3M's world class manufacturing facility in Hutchinson, Minnesota, to examine the barriers encountered in an attempt to move toward a new competence in environmental management. The authors were both participants and observers in this multi-organizational, bipartisan effort to design and undertake an experiment in flexible, performance-based, facility-wide environmental permitting at the facility. Caring and committed people with different beliefs, and opinions, worked diligently and in good faith over a 2-year period to forge a cooperative, mutually agreeable pilot project that would result in a series of "win-win" outcomes.

A major sticking point in the negotiations was the issue of superior environmental performance. In 1996, allowable emissions at the Hutchinson facility for the main air pollutant in question, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), were 33,989 tons per year. Since 1987, 3M had reduced these emissions by 87 percent, while production grew by nearly 70 percent. In 1995, actual emissions of VOCs at Hutchinson were 2,307 tons per year. The company intended to expand production at Hutchinson at a rate similar to the past (i.e., nearly 70 percent). It was seeking a 10-year cap on VOC emissions at the rate of 4,500 tons per year. Under the facility-wide cap and other features of the permit and Final Project Agreement (FPA)?including an advanced environmental management system, multi-media pollution prevention, greater transparency, and stakeholder involvement?the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), its stakeholder group, the Pilot Project Committee (PPC), and 3M anticipated that the company would make reductions in pollution that it otherwise could not make under existing laws.

In EPA's July 2, 1996, comments on the permit and FPA, the Agency maintained that under the Clean Air Act it could agree to only a 5-year permit. It wanted an annual regulatory analysis comparing actual emissions at the facility to what would have been emitted under otherwise applicable requirements. For each pollutant, the Agency expected Hutchinson to achieve lower actual emissions than would have been achieved under these requirements. EPA, for instance, suggested that performance should be at a minimum 10 percent better than the Clean Air Act would have mandated. The Agency also wanted there to be stronger enforcement provisions in the proposed permit and FPA. The Agency sought clarification of the consequences if 3M violated the emissions caps and stated its belief that violation should result in unilateral termination and a speedy return to compliance with the Clean Air Act.

Unfortunately, rather than getting a pilot up and running, the negotiations among 3M, the EPA, and the MPCA faltered and broke down. The stalemate in Hutchinson, while just one instance in the movement toward a new competence in environmental management, was a setback in the transition from today's successful, but increasingly outdated, environmental management system to tomorrow's better one.

Why did this impasse take place? This study offered a number of reasons:

  • The goals of Project XL were not clear and consistent, nor did various people in the different organizations involved understand them in a similar way.

  • The means, especially the legal ones, were not adequate to the task.

  • The activities of the many participants from different organizations and different units in these organizations were not well coordinated.

  • Though trust grew among the participants, the overall level was not high enough for those engaged in the process to work together effectively.

  • External political conditions impeded efforts to reach an agreement.

  • The key implementers did not anticipate all these barriers that developed and were not in a position where they could effectively deal with them.

The reasons for impasse are generalizable to other cases. Goal conflict, inadequate means, imperfect coordination, insufficient trust, unfavorable external conditions, and an inability to anticipate and effectively cope with barriers lead to stalemate. These factors form the beginning of a theory of this phenomenon.

With a better understanding of stalemate, society should be better able to overcome such barriers. It should be able to move with greater ease, and greater haste, toward new managerial competencies in many critical areas. It is not enough just to identify these barriers, however. Rigorous and detailed examination of incidents that end in stalemate should be used to make recommendations to overcome such barriers. On the basis of what we learned from monitoring and evaluating of Project XL Minnesota, we offer the following suggestions:

  • The federal government should clearly define the vision and goals of pilot projects to test ideas associated with a new competence in environmental management.

This vision should downplay the precedent setting nature of individual pilots, while emphasizing the experimental nature of the pilots and their capacity to bring about system-wide change.

  • A new statute, which authorizes experiments in regulatory innovations, should be drafted, introduced into Congress, and passed.

In the absence of such a statute, the federal government should use the discretionary authority it has within existing laws to seek alternative solutions and approaches.

  • In accord with the experimental nature of pilots, the government should encourage the use of performance-based standards, multi-media pollution prevention, innovative environmental management systems, stakeholder accountability, and methods for achieving cost savings.

When these elements are in place, the government should provide applicants for alternative permits operating flexibility.

The government should then monitor and carefully evaluate the experiments it has authorized to determine if granting greater flexibility results in the hoped for improvements in the environment and the economy.

The experiments should test the hypothesis that in exchange for greater operating flexibility, these improvements will be achieved.

  • In both developing and approving the individual experiments, the federal government should rely on teams that consist of individuals from: (1) local stakeholders, (2) the state pollution control agency, (3) the regulated facility, (4) EPA Headquarters, (5) EPA Regions, and (6) national environmental organizations.

    To facilitate communication and coordination, the government should insist that these teams meet together often and as a group in frequent face-to-face discussions either in person or by means of teleconferencing technologies.

    The government should avoid the serial passing of documents from group to group because delay is likely and misunderstandings will grow. Instead it should promote parallel processes in which the people from different groups are given the chance to work together in harmony.

    The government should delegate final decision-making authority to the EPA working groups that are part of these teams, in this way avoiding a consensus-based process that compels the Agency to obtain agreement from each of its units and the team to obtain agreement from each group of which it is composed.

    In general, the government should trust the working groups from the EPA to take risks to approve individual pilots that protect the environment and show promise in moving the facilities toward a new competence in environmental management.

    The approval process should have timetables to which it has to adhere. The aim should be 6 months from application to decision. If agreement cannot be reached within 10 months, there should be automatic termination.

    EPA should aim to approve 50 projects within 3 years.

In the business world, it has been proven that pragmatic sharing and pooling of information and perspectives in face-to-face encounters among people from groups traditionally kept at a distance can make processes more fluid, efficient, and effective. It is time for the government to consider the adoption of these processes. A new competence in environmental management depends critically upon them. If properly managed, they have the potential to break impasses. They can move the country closer to a new competence in environmental management. Proper management means clear lines of decision-making authority, deadlines, and accountability.

Journal Articles on this Report : 1 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other project views: All 1 publications 1 publications in selected types All 1 journal articles
Type Citation Project Document Sources
Journal Article Regan MM, Catalano PJ. Bivariate dose-response modeling and risk estimation in developmental toxicology. Journal of Agricultural, Biological, and Environmental Statistics 1999;4(3):217-237. R824754 (Final)
R824757 (Final)
  • Abstract: JSTOR
  • Supplemental Keywords:

    air, VOC, Clean Air Act, CAA, MN, Minnesota, environmental management., Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Sustainable Industry/Business, cleaner production/pollution prevention, State, Economics, Social Science, pilot project, Minnesota, MN, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, incentives, cost benefit, compliance burden, regulations, transaction costs

    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • 1996