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17 New York University Environmental Law Journal 757 (2008)


Unlike air and water pollution, pollution from dangerous solid and liquid wastes on land remains a relatively concentrated, active hazard for long periods of time. Uncontrolled, land pollution moves through the environment slowly and often without significant diminution of toxicity. Persistence, in fact, is often regarded as the defining quality of dangerous land pollutants. Hazardous and nuclear waste regulation is very much concerned with the problem of maintaining the isolation of solid and liquid materials over decades, centuries, and even millennia, and, the author argues, there is good reason to believe that waste management practices and institutions are not well designed to monitor and safeguard wastes over the time periods during which it remains dangerous. The author discusses how the principles of the Breaking the Logjam project might be applied in crafting solutions to the problems posed by the temporal dimension of hazardous waste management and concludes with the suggestion of an additional principle of institutional learning and the conservation of options: in any long-term effort one must expect that over time we will come to understand a problem better and so develop better ideas for addressing it. But these improvements can only be implemented if the regulatory system is capable of learning and if decisions now leave open options for the future.