Going for the Gold

In sports, great athletes are driven by the quest for excellence. They make no excuses and take the blame when results don't meet expectations. Their positive attitude is matched by careful preparation, hard work and dedication.

Olympic athletes' feats of superior achievement are inspiring to all of us. Carl Lewis, Bonnie Blair, Michael Johnson and Pikabo Street are examples of outstanding gold medal winners who are role models for people in all walks of life. Like the U.S. Olympic Committee, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to promote peak performance. However, EPA is providing incentives for excellence in the environmental arena, rather than on the track, the ice rink or the downhill slopes

In a speech made in 2001 at the National Environmental Policy Institute meeting, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman focused on the importance of EPA's use of incentives to promote environmental excellence. Citing an example from her home state, Whitman said, "EPA's Project XL is working with New Jersey on their Silver and Gold Track program - an innovative, incentives-based program for cleaning the air, water and land. Without going into all the details, the Silver and Gold Track program provides a fair degree of regulatory flexibility to companies that agree to meet certain environmental goals that exceed regulatory standards."

Project XL, which stands for "eXcellence and Leadership," is a national pilot program that allows private businesses, federal facilities, state and local governments to develop with EPA innovative strategies to test better and more cost-effective ways of protecting the environment and public health. In exchange, EPA will issue regulatory flexibilities on a site-specific basis to conduct these experiments.

Examples of the success of this program include 15 publicly owned wastewater treatment plants with superior environmental compliance records that have met criteria under Project XL. As participants in this program, they are allowed regulatory flexibility, including not having to sample for pollutants not expected to be present, using alternative definitions for significant noncompliance and reduced reporting requirements. More information about EPA's Project XL is available at www.epa.gov/projectxl.

Another EPA program designed to motivate and reward top environmental performance is the National Environmental Performance Track. Since the program's launch in September 2000, 251 facilities have been accepted as participants. The program defines what it means to be a top environmental performer and provides incentives to motivate further improvements.

In November 2001, Jay Benforado, an official with EPA's Office of Policy, Economics and Innovation, announced that that the agency is working on a rule that will propose modifications in air, water and waste management regulations to expand incentives for companies that participate in the Performance Track program. The rule is in final agency review and will reward participating companies by publicizing their records of environmental achievements, putting them at the bottom of priority lists for routine inspections and reducing reporting and monitoring requirements.

David Guest, a team leader with EPA's Performance Track program, said in November 2001 that the proposed rule would reduce the frequency of reports required under the maximum achievable control technology (MACT) provisions of the Clean Air Act for facilities that meet or exceed the MACT standards. In addition, according to Guest, the proposed rule would allow participating small generators of hazardous waste to store the material for a longer periods before shipping it off for treatment. This will save the facilities money because they will not be required to make frequent shipments of small quantities of waste.

James Conrad, an attorney with the American Chemistry Council (formerly the Chemical Manufacturers Association), told Environmental Protection that it is important for EPA to get the proposed rule out for discussion as soon as possible in order to demonstrate good faith and forward motion with the Performance Track program. At press time in December 2001, the proposed rule was being prepared for submission to the White House Office of Management and Budget and had not yet been published in the Federal Register for initial public comment. For more information about the current status of the proposed rule, contact EPA's David Guest at (202) 260-0571.

The Performance Track program is open to companies that have a comprehensive management system in place, a history of sustained compliance, commitment to continuous environmental improvement and strong community outreach. All U.S. public and private facilities are encouraged to apply for admittance in the program during the next open application period: February 1 - April 30, 2002. To obtain more information, go to www.epa.gov/performancetrack. Additionally, the Performance Track Participants Association offers useful information about the program on its Web site (www.ptpaonline.org).

The gold that companies are seeking through these programs is more than the monetary kind, although that is certainly a benefit that can be reaped from participation in these programs. Instead, the gold these leaders gain is the sense of accomplishment that results from protecting the environment while promoting successful business practices.

This article originally appeared in the February 2002 issue of Environmental Protection, Vol. 13, No. 2, p. 6.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2002 issue of Environmental Protection.

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