February 8, 2001

Contact: Bradley Kemp, KU Natural History Museum, (785) 864-4540.

KU professor to use EPA grant to study polluters

LAWRENCE -- Are 512 of the biggest polluters among chemical facilities in the United States failing to meet Environmental Protection Agency emission standards on wastewater discharge?

Or are they meeting -- or even exceeding -- standards?

A three-year EPA grant to Dietrich Earnhart, a University of Kansas assistant professor of economics and environmental studies, and three KU colleagues will help answer that question about each of the 512.

Funding of $341,000 will also help them report the kinds of actions the polluters are taking to limit pollution.

Each polluter holds a permit to dump wastewater into natural water sources, Earnhart says. And the EPA gets numbers from each plant on a monthly basis.

"EPA relates the numbers to compliance standards," Earnhart says. "What the EPA fails to do is attempt to explain systematically the plants' compliance levels."

Therefore, in addition to a sophisticated computer analysis of emissions data, Earnhart and colleagues will use questionnaires to survey the plants with the goal of furnishing the EPA with an explanation of why the operations are in or out of compliance.

Motivations for compliance by the plants might include wanting to appear "green" to customers, to be stewards for their communities, to improve the bottom line or just to avoid regulatory hassle, Earnhart said.

"Take all those and reverse them -- they don't care about their communities, polluting improves the bottom line and so on -- and you have good reasons for non-compliance," he said.

In addition to the work with the major polluters, there'll also be a survey of about 1,000 randomly selected minor polluters from a list of 2,000 kept by the EPA. The questions asked will provide Earnhart a basis for explaining what prompts these polluters to take actions to reduce emissions.

"It's unlikely the government has any information on them," Earnhart says. "They got excited by our grant because they don't know much about these minor facilities."

The major polluters are inspected once a year, the minor polluters seldom, Earnhart says.

Working with Earnhart will be Tatsuji Ebihara, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; Donald Haider-Markel, director of the Survey Research Center at the KU Policy Research Institute (formerly the Institute of Public Policy and Business Research); and Robert Glicksman, distinguished professor of law.

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