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Zemansky, G.M., 1983

Water-quality regulation during construction of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline System

Bibliographic Reference

Zemansky, G.M., 1983, Water-quality regulation during construction of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline System: University of Washington, Seattle, Ph.D. dissertation, 2 Vol. (957 p.).


The trans-Alaska oil pipeline system (TAPS) was constructed by a consortium including some of the largest oil companies in the world. They had a strong economic incentive in rapid construction of the project, perceiving delay as equivalent to loss of large amounts of profit. State and federal governments had similarly compelling economic, political, and policy reasons to adopt this objective of the oil companies as their own. However, government advocacy of the TAPS project conflicted with its regulatory role. Despite public concern for environmental protection that had delayed construction and forced major design changes, Congress, spurred by a perceived energy crisis, authorized the TAPS project in the national interest under the condition that state and federal environmental laws and stipulations be complied with so that environmental degradation would be minimized. This dissertation is a retrospective assessment of water quality regulation during construction of the TAPS project (1974 through mid-1977). Its theoretical framework involves the degree to which regulatory redundancy (overlap) produced reliability in achieving compliance with water pollution control requirements. It was found during this research that noncompliance was widespread, frequent, and of a magnitude which was often large. The root cause of this unnecessary noncompliance was the overriding economic interest of the pipeline builders in rapid construction coupled with the failure of regulatory agencies to enforce. There was a greater appearance of regulatory redundancy than was actually the case. The same economic, political, and policy reasons that had led to TAPS project authorization and bureaucratic dynamics resulted in enforcement failure with regard to water pollution control requirements. Under a mandate to facilitate rapid construction, the regulatory agencies demonstrated an inability to accomplish any other objective at the same time. Common-mode failure largely defeated the beneficial potential of what limited regulatory redundancy there was. Additionally, meaningful public participation was prevented by lack of resources, lack of procedural opportunity, and resistance to it from industry and government. The dissertation is concluded with recommendations for improving regulatory performance through strengthened redundancy mechanisms.

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