New Environmentalism

Energy and Natural Resources | Policy Reports

No. 201
Wednesday, January 01, 1997
by Lynn Scarlett


At its deepest level, environmental policy making evokes questions about values. How are environmental values to be integrated with other individual values? To date, our political institutions have only crudely answered this question. Some environmental progress has occurred, but associated costs and conflicts are escalating.

By reexamining the problems, we can begin to find better solutions. Already, champions of reform recognize that environmental problems are complex. They recognize some of the applicable tools and unavoidable constraints. Yet their recognition is only one dimension of the environmental policy challenge.

The challenge is also conceptual and institutional. On the conceptual side, better policy making requires that we distinguish among pollution, resource-use and "public amenity" problems and offer different responses. On the institutional side, better policy making requires determining what institutions would best accommodate diverse values and reduce conflict among individuals and groups.

Institutionally then, better policy making requires defining and enforcing property rights and responsibilities, devolving collective decisions to the parties closest to the problems, relying on performance-based criteria and avoiding prescriptive rules. These institutional changes will nurture the more resilient, less contentious approach on which environmental progress and improved human well-being depend.

NOTE: Nothing written here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the National Center for Policy Analysis or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress.

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