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July 31, 2008

Private Environmentalism

Environmental groups and businesses are joining together to do what Congress can’t . . .

“Governmental inaction is prompting environmental groups and big business to cut unprecedented deals to promote energy exploration and other development in return for major conservation initiatives.

The agreements preserve large amounts of undeveloped land, impose stricter environmental practices than required by law and generate big investments in alternative energy. The deals also clear the way for oil drilling, new power plants and large residential developments.

Experts say the move to private agreements reflects a loss of faith in the government’s ability to handle some of the USA’s most pressing environmental disputes. ‘I started off believing in regulation, but government agencies compromise and change rules,’ San Francisco environmental lawyer Clem Shute says. ‘These private deals are a pragmatic way to accomplish good things.'”

The agreement to develop Tejon Ranch is a good example.


Many of these deals are leveraged by the threat of lawsuits, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A legitimate function of government is to protect property rights, and pollution is a form of trespass. The protection of species is also a problem so long as we can’t establish an extensive property rights scheme for wildlife. Government has a role in these areas, but it may be better to have that role played through the courts to leverage private agreements, than to have regulations created by Congress and the Executive Branch. It seems like this is an approach that makes both environmentalists and businesses happy, so who needs Congress?

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