Abstract: The Transformation of Emissions and Effluents into Factors of Production

Hugh S. Gorman


Over the course of the twentieth century, many changes related to the control of industrial pollution have occurred, including changes in industrial processes and practices, the scale of industry, public expectations, technological and scientific knowledge, and regulatory techniques. However, the major change has been the transformation of emissions and effluents into factors of production that firms are expected to measure, monitor, and manage, a transformation that occurred gradually over the course of a half century. This paper illustrates this transformation from "the bottom up" by examining the interactions between pollution control officials and the operators of one industrial facility—a refinery in Lemont, Illinois, in the period 1925-1985. The facility was constructed when nuisance law and economic incentives to reduce waste were the main mechanisms limiting releases; by the 1980s, state-level permits specified performance levels, and facilities were expected to manage their emissions appropriately. Examining this transformation from the bottom up provides one with a more complex picture than is possible from examining regulatory changes alone.