• Hans Th. A. Bressers

    1. HANS TH.A. BRESSERS is Associate Professor of policy evaluation at the Faculty of Public Policy of the University of Twente (the Netherlands). He published several books and articles in Dutch on subjects such as environmental policy, process analysis, policy evaluation and policy instruments. Currently, he is engaged in developing and testing an explanatory theory on the success of implementation and effectiveness of policy instruments. Publications in English include: The Role of Effluent Charges in Dutch Water Quality Policy in Downing and Hanf (eds.), International Comparisons in Implementing Pollution Laws; A Comparative Approach to the Explanation of Policy Effects (with Mac Honigh) in International Social Science Journal; and Fundamentals for a Theory of Policy Instruments (with PieterJan Klok) in International Journal of Social Economics (forthcoming).
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  • The author is grateful to Dr. Kenneth Hanf for his valuable help with the translation of this article.


The use of effluent charges as an instrument o f regulatory policy has been the object of much dispute. The controversy between advocates and opponents of replacing directives by incentive strategies in various fields of public intervention has always been rather heated, though carried on more in terms of theory than of empirical evidence drawn from experience with policy instruments in actual operation. Much like permit trading in the United States, regulatory effluent charges in The Netherlands more or less “sneaked in through the back door.” The Dutch system o f water quality charges had originally been designed to fulfill solely a revenue-raising function.

The unique features of The Netherlands system make it an interesting example of the use of charges. The Dutch system of effluent charges has been in operation since 1970 and, in terms of the level of the charges, is more than twice as large as the more recent German program. Furthermore its use as a regulatory instrument has been “accidental.” It did not replace the official intervention strategy of direct regulation. Given this situation, the Dutch case provides a unique opportunity to examine the effects of these two approaches as they were applied to the same case.

Three statistical analyses of the impacts of the policy instrument used, supplemented by two expert assessments of these impacts, show the Dutch effluent charges have had a very remarkable effect on industrial polluters. In Holland, t h e water quality policy i s regarded as one of t h e few examples o f successful governmental intervention. The final section presents some general thoughts on relevance of the Dutch experience with effluent charges for other countries.