Since taking office, President Trump has made an across-the-board rollback of regulations a top priority. His position: regulations are burdensome and expensive, so we should have less of them. Although the administration’s current approach is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater, there is a lot to be said for trying to identify new policy approaches that are flexible, efficient, and low cost. That’s especially the case when it comes to the environment, and once upon a time the Republican Party was at the forefront of this type of thinking.
Environmental regulations—not just in the United States, but around the world—are overwhelmingly command and control regulations. This means that a government makes rules—bans polluting on processes or emissions standards, for example—and then attempts to enforce them using penalties.
Getting this system to work is expensive and, in some countries, nearly impossible to implement. The regulator needs to be able to deploy an army of trained staff to monitor polluting industries, and it needs to systematically enforce penalties in the face of local political and economic realities. Credible data on emissions can be hard to obtain, and enforcing harsh penalties even tougher. Worse, these regulations impose high costs on industry.
Fortunately, newer approaches are emerging, including market-based regulation and rules aimed at increasing transparency. Such transparency initiatives, which put data in an organized and understandable form and make it accessible to the public, can add real power to the effectiveness of regulations. And in India, one state government is working to perfect this approach…