"Everything after God was a knockoff."

-- Leslie Wexner, founder and CEO of the Limited, who has turned building on other people's ideas into an art form

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So you think the answer to overregulation is to get rid of the regulators, right? We did, too. Then along came word of an experiment in cooperation between regulators and businesses in the state of Washington, the results of which challenge almost everything we thought we knew on the subject.

The program began with a decision by the state Department of Ecology (DOE) to try reducing hazardous waste in the automotive industry without imposing fines. In January 1992 inspectors fanned out across the state, making 45-minute visits to some 1,700 of the more than 8,500 auto-body shops, auto-machine shops, auto-repair shops, auto dealers, tire dealers, radiator shops, and service stations. "They made it clear that they'd impose fines only if there was a clear and imminent danger to the health of individuals or the environment," says Ted Slatten, publisher and executive editor of Automotive Dateline, the publication of the Automotive Service Association of Washington. "Nobody was fined." Instead, each business owner was given an industry-specific book on managing hazardous waste, along with a list of recom-mendations.

So what happened? In a follow-up survey, the DOE found that 97% of the shops visited had complied with at least one of the recommendations; 61% had done everything recommended; and 82% had kept the informational materials. "I was really quite surprised at how successful it was," says Slatten.

But here's the kicker: the trade association is now calling on the DOE for tougher enforcement against the noncompliers. "We have an uneven playing field," says Slatten, who owned his own auto-repair shop for 13 of the 36 years he was in the business. "If the guy down the street doesn't have to do it, why wouldn't I start thinking I'd be better off to cheat and not worry?"

"We issue only 4 to 10 penalties a year," says Tom Eaton, pollution-prevention coordinator for the state. "They're very resource-intensive. So we try to get compliance on a voluntary level." Meanwhile, the DOE is rolling out similar programs for photo labs, dentists' offices, electroplaters, printers, hazardous-waste transporters, hospitals, dry cleaners, and cabinetmakers.

For a free copy of the report on the automotive "shop sweep" campaign, call Bert Ponton at the Department of Ecology at 360-407-6752 and ask for publication 94-05.

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Regulation by Recommendation
97% did at least one thing

61% did everything

82% kept the information