For more than a generation, enforceable permits have been the main tool of private sector compliance with environmental standards. The rigid and technically complex nature of these permits has, however, left much to be desired. Smaller companies, for which environmental consultants are not an option, must figure out on their own which regulations they must comply with and how to do so. The inflexible permit process also favors older technologies over new ones. These factors often result in diminished compliance participation by small and innovative companies. The permits themselves lack recurring regulatory mechanisms and often waste state resources because of their custom, case-by-case, nature.
The Massachusetts Environmental Results Program (ERP) replaces enforceable permits with industry-specific performance standards. In 1996, the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) introduced the program, announcing, "No longer will rigid and complex permits be viewed as a sign of a well-protected environment. Instead, we will judge our progress by actual environmental results." ERP approaches compliance in a three-pronged manner of assistance, certification and measurement. This method achieves a dynamic closer to cooperation than enforcement.
ERP conducts seminars and distributes materials to help businesses understand their environmental impacts and obligations. Instead of working from a government perspective on regulation, ERP educates from the perspective of how each industry does its work. In this way, the emphasis formerly placed on businesses to initiate compliance shifts more toward the DEP. This proactive approach has augmented ERP's number of participating firms by 83 percent. The vast majority of these 2,200 firms had previously been non-compliant.
On a yearly basis, high-ranking officials sign certifications of compliance with their industry's specific standards. The certification allows for corrective plans and deadlines when businesses are in danger of falling short of their goals. This contact with upper-level officials instills a top-down motivation for compliance. ERP cites that approximately one in ten companies submitting certifications have self-identified violations to which they have committed to improvement timetables in writing.
ERP conducts random inspections using an industry-specific scoring system and statistical analysis to track performance. The result of this data has been an accurate representation of the progress and trends of each firm and sector within ERP. This data allows DEP to more efficiently target compliance problems and deliver outreach assistance.
The combination of these program elements has resulted in improved business conditions, a more efficient use of state resources and a stronger climate of environmental consideration. ERP has not only brought many more businesses into compliance, but has helped all participating firms reduce their environmental impacts.