Thanks for your question. I've been working in the environmental
arena for a few decades, now, so I'm pretty familiar with the major
regulatory control strategies in the U.S.
Historically, there have been two major pollution control strategies
built into modern environmental laws.
One is based on ambient environmental quality -- decide what levels of
pollution (in the atmosphere or water, for instance) are "acceptable"
and then mandate that levels do not exceed this acceptable limit.
This approached is often health-based. If 10 parts per million of a
pollutant over a lifetime of exposure can cause damage to a human
being or to animals or plants then the acceptable level may be set at
10 parts per million, or even lower, say, 1 part per million, to build
in an extra margin of safety.
In this strategy, technology doesn't really enter the picture until
after the limits are set. Once the limit is imposed, then technology
will be applied to reach it, or (in theory) new technology will come
along if the existing technology is inadequate to the task.
This is essentially the answer to the last part of your question:
"...if the technology does not already exist, how would I deal with
that aspect of it". Regulations based on ambient environmental
quality are generally silent on the capability of technology, and
assume that -- if current technology can't do the job -- then market
forces will go to work to make new technologies available. A
government-sponsored R&D program may also be created to accelerate the
development of new technologies.
The second major approach is the technology approach that your
question primarily alludes to. In this approach, regulators identify
the "best available technologies" -- BAT -- for controlling
troublesome pollutants, and then require polluters -- usually
industries -- to either adopt these control technologies, or to adopt
other technologies that are at least as effective. Ordinarily, the
BAT's are identified for particular combinations of industries,
processes and pollutants.
A Google search on the terms: ["best available technology"
regulation] returned over 15,000 results, just to give you an idea of
how commonly the phrase is used. A few key links in this regard are:
Development Document for Best Available Technology, Pretreatment
Technology, and New Source Performance Technology for the Pesticide
Formulating, Packaging, and Repackaging Industry
Date of Publication: March, 1994
This is an EPA proposal for BAT practices to control discharges to
water from portions of the pesticide industry. While this is just a
description of the publication, I thought it was worth a look just to
get an idea of the level of complexity and specificity of a typical
"development document" as they are called.
This site from the Environmental Protection Agency:
The Meaning of the 1977 Clean Water Act
by Senator Edmund S. Muskie
gives an interesting bit of history of the Clean Water Act, and the
use of BAT, and related categories such as "Best Conventional
Technology" and "Best Practicable Technology" (and believe it or not,
there are a lot of other variations on this theme).
Here's another page at EPA's website that covers some additional
Effluent limitations guidelines and standards are established by EPA
for different non-municipal industries. These guidelines are based on
the degree of pollutant reduction that can be attained by an industry
when they apply recommended pollutant control technologies.
The Clean Water Act requires EPA to specifically develop effluent
guidelines that represent the following:
Best conventional pollutant control technology (BCT) for conventional
pollutants and applicable to existing dischargers.
Best practicable control technology currently available (BPT) for
conventional, toxic and nonconventional pollutants and applicable to
Best available technology economically achievable (BAT) for toxic and
nonconventional pollutants and applicable to existing dischargers.
New source performance standards (NSPS) for conventional pollutants
and applicable to new sources.
and here's a related glossary that takes you to key terms:
Look under the "best" terms to see the definitions of the varioius categories.
And lastly, here's a good EPA backgrounder document on
technology-based rules for the construction industry:
Effluent Guidelines: Construction and Development -- Background
that includes a description of the standards-setting process:
Effluent guidelines are national standards that are developed by EPA
on an industry-by-industry basis, and are intended to represent the
greatest pollutant reductions that are economically achievable for an
industry. To develop these technology-based regulations, EPA first
gathers information on the industry practices; characteristics of
discharges (stormwater flows and pollutants); technologies or
practices used to prevent or treat the discharge; and economic
financial characteristics. EPA identifies the best available
technology that is economically achievable for that industry and sets
regulatory requirements based on the performance of that technology.
(Note: The effluent guidelines do not require facilities to install
the particular technology identified by EPA; however, the regulations
do require facilities to achieve the regulatory standards which were
developed based on a particular model technology.) The standards are
then incorporated into National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System
(NPDES) permits issued by States and EPA regional offices.
EPA has issued national technology-based effluent guidelines for over
50 industries. The Construction and Development effluent guidelines
option would create a new category that would be listed at Title 40 of
the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Part 450.
I hope this is enough background and overview material to get you
going. As you requested, I've focused on water pollution, but much
the same approaches can be (and are) used in dealing with air
pollution issues as well.
If anything here is not clear -- or if you need additional explanation
-- just let me know by posting a Request for Clarification, and I'll
be happy to assist you further.