From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 3- Dealing with the air pollution through regulations
Despite efforts from several levels, air pollution is getting worse day by day. The article suggests the strategy to deal with the issue of air pollution.
- Pollution is very much a solvable problem but it cannot be solved on an emergency basis.
- It has to be dealt with firmly and gradually.
- Why gradually? Because there are many sources of pollution and it would be prohibitively costly to stop them or even significantly reduce them all at once.
Replacing existing technologies with existing technology
- The biggest sources air polltion nationally are cooking fires, coal-fired power plants, various industries, crop residue burning, and construction and road dust. Vehicles are further down on the list.
- Dealing with all these sources will require a gradual replacement of existing technologies with new technologies.
- Cooking fires must be replaced with LPG, induction stoves, and other electric cooking appliances.
- Old coal power plants must be closed and replaced with wind and solar power and batteries while newer plants must install new pollution control equipment.
- No new coal-fired power plants should be built — with renewables being cheaper, coal is obsolete for power generation.
- Other industries that use coal will have to gradually switch over to cleaner fuel sources such as gas or hydrogen while becoming more energy-efficient at the same time.
- Farmers will have to switch crops or adopt alternative methods of residue management.
- Diesel and petrol vehicles must gradually be replaced by electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles running on power generated from renewables.
Legal measures and issues
- Governments can make clean investments more profitable and dirty investments less profitable by taxing polluting activities and subsidising clean investments.
- The judiciary is more powerful but has far less scientific and technical competence.
- It tends to act only during crises and focus on past mistakes rather than planning to prevent new ones.
Reforms in regulatory agency
- Our existing laws do not allow the central and state pollution boards to levy pollution fee or cess based on pollution emissions.
- Since closing down an industry is a drastic step, it almost never happens.
- We need a regulatory agency that can levy pollution fee or cess, is that the regulatory decision need not be an all-or-nothing decision.
- Pollution fees can start small, and the EPA can announce that they will rise by a certain percentage every year.
- The regulatory agency should be given some independence,like
- 1) a head appointed for a five-year term removable only by impeachment.
- 2) a guaranteed budget funded by a small percentage tax on all industries.
- 3) autonomy to hire staff and to set pollution fees after justification through scientific studies.
- Three advantages of the regulator with such powers would be-
- 1) Politicians in power can pass on the blame for decisions on pollution fees to the EPA.
- 2) Pollution fees raise revenue for the government.
- 3) If the law establishing an independent EPA is written to require that changes to pollution fees and regulations must be published in advance, and cannot involve abrupt changes, then surprises are avoided.
- Industry opposition will be muted, especially if industry gets a piece of the revenue to invest in new technologies.
Our pollution problem has taken decades to grow into the monster that it is. It can’t be killed in a day. We need the scientific and technical capacity that only a securely funded independent EPA can bring to shrink pollution down to nothing.