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Environmental Protection Under Small Government

Mention of limited government generally brings looks of wonderment to the eyes of progressives, but the suggestion that you would do away with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would bring absolute 'shock and awe' to a progressive or an environmentalist.

In an op-ed yesterday at the American Spectator, Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of  Stealing You Blind: How Government Fatcats Are Getting Rich Off of You writes that “property rights under common law offered greater protection from polluters than do diktats from Washington bureaucrats.” Here is just a portion of his op-ed:

“For much of U.S. history, clean air and water were protected by the courts. This common law system based environmental protection on property rights. No one had the right to damage another person's property, including his land, air, and water. Polluters were held accountable in the same way as trespassers, vandals, and thieves.

“The common law was better for victims because it granted them direct legal recourse against polluters. No new law or regulation needed to be issued. They only had to demonstrate that the pollutant resulted in damage. For that reason, it was also good for businesses, who were not subject to regulation unless they actually imposed costs on others. Both sides also benefited from the ability to negotiate. Firms could offer to pay plaintiffs to allow a certain amount of pollution on their property, which created a natural rather than artificial price for pollution, such as cap and trade policies seek to create.”

According to Murray, “The 1951 case International Paper Company v. Maddox demonstrates all these benefits . . . In case after case, courts affirmed plaintiffs' right to live pollution free. The EPA did away with this direct legal recourse.” On the other hand, he writes:

“For the past thirty years, the EPA has used every power at its disposal to pursue John Pozsgai, a refugee from communism, for the crime of cleaning up a scrap yard he had bought. At one point, they succeeded in sending him to prison, something that has never happened as a result of a true environmental disaster like the BP oil spill . . . .”

So, are the environmentalists interested in a clean environment or a statist government with more bureaucrats and bureaucracy?


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