Command and Control Regulation Essay

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Command and control regulations of the environment use standards set by a regulator. The standards are set in order to regulate the environment or ecology in such a way that its natural integrity is maintained at an acceptable level. The standards are mandated at some level and are enforced in law. The focus of the mandated standard is to outlaw excessive amounts of pollution. The mandated standard makes what might be otherwise an allowable overage of pollution an illegal act. The goal is to establish a legal principle to which the potential polluter must adhere and which the government can enforce. The results will be an efficient level of pollution control.

Command and control regulations are a form of public policy that uses laws, measurements, rules, standards, and sanctions to enforce compliance with the policy of a clean environment. The command and control regulations require polluters to meet specific emission reduction targets or face fines. They may also have to install expensive equipment, which will be used to reduce their offending pollution.

Standards may be ambient, emission, or technology. Ambient standards regulate the amount of pollution present in the ambient environment. For example, oil seeps naturally from the ground into water sources, a cause of natural pollution. To measure what is naturally in the environment and compare them to human activities enables an ambient standard to be established.

The standards are set by making numerous daily observations over several seasons. If the observations reveal that a human polluting source is a contributing factor, then the goal will be to locate its source in order to eliminate it legally. The Clean Air Act set federal standards for ambient air quality for a region as well as localities, because pollution is can spread over wide areas. Ambient standards can be used to mandate regional compliance through a regional compliance plan.

Emission standards regulate the level of emissions that the government will allow in order to prevent pollution. Emission standards may regulate the number of particles of SO2 emissions permitted per hour by a coal-fired electricity plant, or the levels of biochemical oxygen demand that can be allowed in wastewater.

Ambient standards and emission standards may not always be in a harmonious relationship. This is because emissions may exceed limits normally allowed because weather conditions create runoff or storm damage that interferes with the normal level of emissions. Electrical demand may have to be elevated during severe winter weather, which may mean a temporary increase in polluting emissions.

Technology standards are mandated to allow polluters freedom to choose the technology to eliminate pollution. Technology standards permit the use of the “best practicable technology” for an industry or for a industrial practice.

Some critics of environmental regulation believe that command and control regulation of the environment has failed. For them, it has fallen into disrepute because it is obsolete and did not fulfill its purpose due to inefficiency. Another criticism is that it interferes with the fundamental rights of people to the free and fair enjoyment of their property. In addition, it is not clear that human behaviors have been modified in any significant or fundamental way through command and control regulations.

Some critics advocate a system of incentives. Instead of the dictatorial command and control system, market-oriented critics promote economic means for reducing pollution. In meeting ambient standards, some have proposed using a system of credits that can be purchased. Pollution is allowed and not eliminated, while economic benefits go to those able to gain them while externalizing the pollution costs to others. In response, supporters of command and control regulations point to the enormous progress in cleaning up the environment. The American government and others around the world have made significant investments in time and money. These have created a system in which pollution has been reduced and has allowed many streams, rivers, and other natural environments to return to a closer proximity to their original natural state.


  1. Cyrille de Klemm and Clare Shine, Biological Diversity Conservation and the Law: Legal Mechanism for Conserving Species and Ecosystems (IUCN, 1993);
  2. William Lesser, Sustainable Use of Genetic Resources under the Convention on Biological Diversity: Exploring Access and Benefit Sharing Issues (CAB International, 1998);
  3. John Nagle and J.B. Ruhl, Nagel’s the Law of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management (Foundation Press, 2002);
  4. Lyle Glowka and Clare Shine, Guide to Undertaking Biodiversity Legal and Institutional Profiles (Island Press, 1998).

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