September 24, 2018
Pioneering Partnership and Approach Brings Transparency to Pollution
India’s Odisha government and University of Chicago researchers launch a pollution rating program for industries, creating momentum in scaling up research pilots.
The state government of Odisha in India made a groundbreaking step last week by launching a public rating system for polluting industries based on real-time measurements of their pollution emissions. The aim of the initiative is to give citizens information they can use to demand compliance with environmental regulations. This new scheme was designed in partnership with researchers from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and Tata Centre for Development at UChicago (TCD), building on work they have been doing in Maharashtra for the last year.
“We are committed towards serving our citizens better and I am very optimistic about this program that aims to cut pollution. The Star Rating program will help the public to find out whether industries in their vicinity are fair in their environmental compliance and empower them to strengthen regulations through public participation,” said Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik while launching the program on September 17.
Under the new scheme, large industrial plants will be publicly rated based on the amount of air pollution coming from their smoke stacks. New technology is being used to continuously track emissions. Factories that violate the regulatory limits will get one or two stars. A one star would mean that the plant exceeds legal limits by more than 25 percent, or fails to consistently transfer emissions information as required. Five star plants are those that are much cleaner than the legally required minimum, emitting less than half of what they are allowed.
“This type of partnership between government and researchers is at the vanguard of environmental enforcement and it brings the best of empirically testing what works to political realities of what is feasible,” said Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago and director of EPIC and TCD. “It also strikes at the heart of our mission at TCD and EPIC-India to use economics and data to discover successful policies and scale them up with the help of our partners.”
The Odisha program builds on a first-of-its-kind effort launched last year in the state of Maharashtra by its Chief Minister Shri Devendra Fadnavis, in coordination with researchers from EPIC-India, The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL), Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) at Harvard University and the Tata Centre for Development. That program, which uses data from thousands of industrial stack samples over multiple years, has been widely successful. The traffic to the web site has been growing steadily as people look to learn about industrial pollution in their area and is becoming a part of the pollution enforcement fabric in Maharashtra. They were driven there thanks to a robust outreach campaign that has led to coverage of the program from 24 different media outlets in three languages, garnering more than 60 mentions in the last nine months and reaching more than 50 million people across the state. Additionally, the program has received high-level endorsements from city mayors, members of parliament, celebrities and government officials.
Although similar programs have been launched in other countries—such as the Toxic Release Inventory in the United States and the Blue Map in China—the Odisha and Maharashtra programs are path breaking because of the unique government-university partnership aimed at testing and scaling policies. Additionally, the Odisha program stands apart because it is the first program of its kind to capture pollution monitoring data in real time using continuous emissions monitoring technology instead of self-reports from industry or infrequent and costly monitoring by government inspectors.
Both the Odisha and Maharashtra programs represent important steps in transforming environmental regulation in India into a transparent and data-driven process. Researchers at TCD and EPIC-India are helping to make this happen and are working to further replicate these programs in other states across India.
“In grabbing hold of this era of transparency and combining it with a wealth of data and a unique government-university partnership, the Odisha Star Rating Program could surely become a model for governments worldwide to improve the environmental performance of industries and reduce the air pollution that is causing people to lead shorter and sicker lives,” said Greenstone. “Through TCD, we look forward to using this approach to confront other challenges across India and the world.”
Visit the Odisha Star Rating Program website at ospcb.info.