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Moving from Permitting Pollution to Preventing Pollution: What Does the Environment Need from a Permit?

Pollution, Air Quality
Hillyer, Ann

Today's environmental imperatives are propelling us into an era where we must rethink our approach to environmental protection. We are challenged to examine what protecting the environment means and to rigourously scrutinize the tools we use to ensure that protection. The need to achieve the greatest possible environmental benefits from environmental protection measures, such as the industrial permitting process, has never been greater.

In the words of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development,

Developed countries will have to cut their use of energy and other raw materials -- and their impact on the environment -- more than 10 times over in little more than a generation, if the needs of the world's growing population are to be met without destroying the planet.2

Perhaps this stark conclusion would be less surprising if it had come from a deep ecology group. But today it is clear that addressing our grave environmental problems has become a priority for every quarter of society. We are even beginning to see that solving environmental problems can unearth significant economic opportunities.

For some time we have known that pollution prevention is a powerful concept which, when properly implemented, can dramatically shift the way we use resources and significantly limit our impact on the environment. To translate this opportunity into reality involves finding ways to transform permit system mechanisms to achieve pollution prevention more quickly and effectively.

This paper focuses on several themes essential to this transformation:

  1. The importance of an appropriate legal framework to encourage preventing pollution rather than simply controlling it after it occurs
  2. The need for tough standards that protect the environment, rooted in the principles of precautionary, preventative action, even if the technology does not yet exist to achieve the standards
  3. The need to set legally enforceable standards far in advance of the date for compliance and phase them in where appropriate
  4. The necessity of clear, accurate monitoring and compliance information that is routinely made available to all interested parties
  5. The importance of meaningful public participation
  6. The need to recognize and ambitiously pursue the economic benefits associated with pollution prevention

To illustrate these themes, the pulp mill effluent regulations in effect in British Columbia will be examined. These regulations have contributed substantially to moving the industry from being a heavily polluting industry to one achieving significant improvements in environmental performance.

Publication Date: 
May 1, 1996
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