Vol. 14 No.11 (November 2004), pp.927-928 

TAMING REGULATION: SUPERFUND AND THE CHALLENGE OF REGULATORY REFORM, by Robert T. Nakamura and Thomas W. Church. Washington: Brookings Institution, 2003. 192 pp. Cloth $46.95. ISBN: 0-8157-5942-8. Paper: $18.95. ISBN: 0-8157-5943-6. 

Reviewed by Denise DeGarmo, Department of Political Science, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.  Email: ddegarm@siue.edu

As a result of growing concern with the impact of uncontrolled dumping of hazardous waste on public health and the environment, the United States Congress established the Superfund Program in 1980. Superfund, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was charged with investigating and cleaning up inactive hazardous waste sites across America.  It was not meant to address future environmental harms. Utilizing a liability scheme which imposed “retroactive responsibility for cleanup on potentially responsible parties (PRPs),” Superfund became one of the most expensive and controversial environmental programs in US history.  As the “poster child” for deregulation, many policy experts believed with the election of a Republican Congress in 1994, Superfund would be dismantled.  Yet, during this period of anti-regulation Superfund was transformed into a stable and non-controversial program.  How did this occur?  It is within this context Robert T. Nakamura and Thomas W. Church explore the necessity and difficulty of regulatory reform.   

Nakamura and Church recognize regulation is unpopular because of associated cost constraints and behavioral changes imposed upon individuals and businesses.  Critics of regulation have long claimed the cost of regulation serves as an incentive to avoid compliance. Furthermore, the effectiveness of regulation is often contested because regulatory agencies have trouble producing reliable measures in this area. Additionally, critics point to the use of governmental power for private ends or the use of governmental power for political ends as potential negative consequences of regulation.  Regardless, Nakamura and Church assert that regulation is an essential policy tool through which government seeks to restrain elemental aspects of antisocial behavior.   

Efforts to reform regulatory programs often involve administrative and implementation challenges.  Superfund proves to be a useful case study in which to explore critical questions regarding regulatory reform.  Specifically, Nakamura and Church are interested in examining: 1) how to make coercive regulatory policies more politically acceptable and more effective in an anti-regulatory environment; and, 2) how to best approach reform in ongoing regulatory programs.  The authors utilize documents obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency as well as conduct a series of interviews (1992, 1999, 2000, and 2002) with Superfund leaders, employees of the Environment and Natural Resource Division of the Department of Justice, [*928] Congressional staff, and stakeholders to answer these questions. 

According to Nakamura and Church, three factors contributed to the successful transformation of Superfund into a “fundamentally sound” program.  First, during the reform process the main leadership was not only committed to the reform process, they stood united in their support of the design and implementation of those reforms.  The second contributing factor involved the management of the reform process. Lines of communication remained open between policymakers and implementers.  Moreover, policy goals and the means to achieve those goals were clearly spelled out.  The technical, administrative and political feasibility of suggested reforms were also evaluated. Finally, attention was paid to the creation of both positive and negative incentives at the national and regional levels to induce cooperation and implementation of necessary reforms. 

Based upon their findings in the Superfund case, the authors conclude there are several requirements for successful regulation programs.  First, parties must be treated fairly.  There must be a fair allocation of economic resources and associated costs.  Regulatory agencies must pay special attention that the costs a particular population is being asked to bear are proportional to the commensurate benefits to society as a whole.  Second, regulatory programs must keep their assigned problem “under control.”  While it is impossible to guarantee the elimination of all risk associated with a specific program, there must be a realistic expectation that the agency controls and minimizes risks to the greatest possible extent. Finally, regulation must maintain political support. In order to maintain support of competing constituencies, it is essential to create accommodations between those being regulated and those threatened by the risks being addressed. 

At a time when few scholars appear concerned with investigating regulatory practices, TAMING REGULATION makes an important contribution to regulation and environmental policy studies by investigating ways in which the uses of regulatory power can be made politically and practically acceptable. This book is a must read for individuals and policy-makers considering regulatory reform.  It is also recommended for students interested in regulatory history and policy.  It should not be overlooked by those interested in environmental policy and the phenomenon of Superfund.


© Copyright 2004 by the author, Denise DeGarmo.