HOOVER ESSAY IN PUBLIC POLICY: Reforming Hazardous Waste Policy by Hilary Sigman

Wednesday, June 9, 1999

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is not living up to its potential because some of its regulations harm, rather than help, the environment.

The program has several significant problems, according to Hoover Institution Visiting Fellow Hilary Sigman:

  • There is no standard for prioritizing the most hazardous wastes,
  • Companies are forced to spend billions of dollars on alternatives to the land disposal of waste, with limited health and environmental benefits, and
  • The regulations may encourage illegal dumping because the cost of legally managing wastes has become prohibitive for many firms.

In her essay, Sigman states the necessity for reform and suggests tailoring traditional economic incentives such as "green" taxes by levying them on environmental releases from waste management facilities rather than on the wastes themselves. This would result in a stronger connection between the program and specific environmental goals.

Another proposal Sigman makes is the implementation of a deposit/refund plan, similar to the one used for bottles, to eliminate incentives for the illegal disposal of wastes.

Hilary Sigman wrote this essay when she was a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. She is an assistant economics professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. She serves on the Environmental Economics Advisory Committee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board.

Copies of this Essay are available for $5 each from the Hoover Institution Press, 1-800-935-2882.

Visit the Hoover Institution Web Site at www-hoover.stanford.edu.