"Command and control" regulations focus on preventing environmental problems by specifying how a company will manage a pollution-generating process. This approach generally relies on detailed regulations followed up by an ongoing inspection program. In the United States, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is a prime example of this kind of regulation.
"Command and control" regulations were popular in the early stages of American enviromental regulation in the 1970's. They were based on engineering approaches to specific pollution sources, such as those designated as significant by the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. In these cases, as in RCRA, this approach resulted in a rapid decrease in pollution from point sources. However, as non-point source pollution became a more important important issue for environmental protection, "command and control" regulations became less useful.
RCRA, in particular, has become problematic in that, while it is successful at directing hazardous wastes to the appropriate disposal facility, it has been less successful at reducing the amount of waste produced. As the name of the act implies, this is an important goal of the original legislation.
The alternative to "command and control" regulation is "performance oriented" regulation, in which specific environmental performance goals, such as a reduction in the amount of pollution associated with a process is specified by the regulation and each facility is left to determine the best method to achieve this goal. The concern with this approach is that it tends to be much more difficult to enforce because it requires an intimate understanding of the process and alternatives to the process. In general, the "performance oriented" approach requires the documentation of these and the environmental impacts associated with the process in a planning document, which can be reviewed by regulatory authorities. Environmental Management Systems generally form the basis for the format of such a plan.