Building Sector-Based Consensus: A Review of the Epa's Common Sense Initiative

22 Pages Posted: 18 Dec 2003

See all articles by Cary Coglianese

Cary Coglianese

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Laurie K. Allen

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Date Written: September 2003


In the late 1990s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted what the agency considered to be a "bold experiment" in regulatory reinvention, bringing representatives from six industrial sectors together with government officials and NGO representatives to forge a consensus on innovations in public policy and business practices. This paper assesses the impact of the agency's "experiment" - called the Common Sense Initiative (CSI) - in terms of the agency's goals of improving regulatory performance and technological innovation. Based on a review of CSI projects across all six sectors, the paper shows how EPA achieved, at best, quite modest accomplishments. The paper explains how EPA's decision to rely on consensus as a procedural rule contributed to CSI's failure to meet the agency's ambitious goals. Faced with delays, CSI participants tended to work on projects over which agreement was possible, such as on the development of training manuals or production of case studies, instead of tackling more significant issues. These information-gathering and educational projects avoided the kind of conflicts that would have arisen over more ambitious efforts, but at the expense of making more meaningful economic or environmental improvement. The EPA's experience with CSI provides cautionary lessons for regulators in any policy area who might contemplate using consensus as a decision rule.

Keywords: Business and government policy, environment and natural resources, law and legal institutions, leadership and conflict management, regulation

JEL Classification: G28, H50, J58, K32, Q28

Suggested Citation

Coglianese, Cary and Allen, Laurie K., Building Sector-Based Consensus: A Review of the Epa's Common Sense Initiative (September 2003). KSG Research Paper Series No. RWP03-037. Available at SSRN: or

Cary Coglianese (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-898-6867 (Phone)


Laurie K. Allen

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ( email )

Washington, DC
United States

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