In this guest post by Shawn Regan, a research fellow and the director of publications at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, Montana, looks at the fact that to acquire rights to natural resources in the West, you must use the resource. This is an obvious barrier to many would-be environmentalist bidders.
Environmentalists’ knee-jerk reactions to the Trump administration’s regulatory changes under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) were as predictable as they were misguided. Environmentalists claimed the changes violate the law and gut protections—leaving vulnerable species otherwise on the road to recovery at risk of annihilation.
Sadly, the mainstream media, which seems to treat as revealed truth every study, press release, pronouncement, and tweet from environmentalists, especially if it’s critical of the Trump administration, parroted these claims.
Based on environmentalists’ and the press’s reactions, you would think the ESA had a glowing track record of success in bringing species back from the brink of extinction, but nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, the ESA has been a costly fiasco.
From Mary O’Grady in the Wall Street Journal:
In August 2016 Reuters reported on a study by the nonprofit Climate Policy Initiative that linked the absence of land titles in the Amazon to conflict and environmental degradation. “Without clear titles proving land ownership, farmers have less incentive to make new investments, improve productivity or protect the environment, said the CPI, a San Francisco-based group with operations in Rio de Janeiro,” Reuters wrote.
I divide environmental topics into two sometimes overlapping groups, “romance” and “sludge.” The romance sector includes parks, forests, wildlands, wilderness, wildlife, and scenic vistas. These treasures grace calendars and coffee table books. Most educated and comfortable adults, even committed urbanites, are attracted to and want to protect this sector.
The second division is sludge. This term refers to nasty stuff that is often the necessary byproduct of legitimate productive activities such as food processing, mining, and manufacturing. These are spillovers from legitimate and useful activities.Economists call this category negative externalities. They ask: How might we efficiently reduce them—or even better, convert them into useful products?
That’s exactly what environmental entrepreneurs did when they converted the wood waste and scrap from lumber mills into valuable wood panels. Those panels replaced plywood—which had replaced boards formerly cut from old growth trees. Lesson here? In a market process economy, superior substitutes naturally evolve.
We can’t live without some sludge; it’s inherent in living and using products from the earth. While recognizing this, I choose to work in the romance arena. Had I elected to focus on sludge, I’d live in Boston and study its harbor. Instead, I live on a ranch between Bozeman and Yellowstone Park and study my surrounding habitat. Thus, I work in the tradition of America’s first conservationists.
America’s old-line conservation organizations were primarily concerned with the romance sector of their environment, largely with protecting wildlife.
In his new PERC policy paper, R. David Simpson reports on his experience reviewing the cost-benefit analysis of an Obama-era regulation defining “WOTUS.” (In Washington lingo, that is “waters of the United States.”) Simpson, an economist formerly with the Environmental Protection Agency, expresses regret that he did not press harder to improve the EPA’s cost-benefit analysis of the rule, issued in 2015. The rule was designed to extend the federal government’s jurisdiction over U.S. waters under the Clean Water Act, bringing relatively isolated streams and wetlands under government regulation.