Environmental regulations actually codify pollution, resulting in destroying the very thing they were ostensibly created to preserve. How so? Very simply. By establishing limits of pollution that cannot be exceeded, they actually grant legal protection to levels of pollutants falling under that level of regulation. The excuse for individuals or companies for discharging known pollutants is that the levels of pollution are under the regulations set by the local, state or federal authorities. In short, those pollutions are granted exemption from legal action by any property owners affected by it, destroying property rights and eliminating recourse for action.
Where previously, property owners could’ve used the legal system to remedy the actual harms caused to their property by individuals proven to be discharging pollutants, the regulatory agencies and the regulations themselves now actually grant protection to the polluters by providing an arbitrary standard as a shield behind which they can hide. If the regulatory limit is 10 parts per million, then the entity can legally introduce nine parts per million, and be deemed in compliance.
What then about the inevitable impact of the nine part per million on the property of the individual next door? Is there something magical about that extra part per million? Of course not! There are still the immediate and cumulative effects of that nine parts per million. However, because those nine parts per million are deemed to be in compliance with the law, the property owner is denied recourse from recovering what are obvious damages to the property, ironically, as evidenced by the legal limit of ten parts per million.
This issue is not just limited to the United States. In fact, it can be even more obvious in other countries with different systems of government. In short, the more power a government has, the more centrally located its system, the greater the damage to the environment, and – interestingly – the fewer private property rights it’s citizens have.
You will find few countries with more ecological and environmental disasters and damages than China and the former Soviet Union. How can this be? Every aspect of these countries was stringently regulated – from land use on down the line. Nothing happened with out the government’s sanction. (Ok, well, maybe the Russians didn’t ok the collapse of the USSR, but that’s what happens when you continuously attempt to fund a large expansionist military empire.)
In short, if regulation worked so well, why were these not the most pristine environments? Why? Because every bit of that regulation gave pollution the legal authority to proceed with the government’s stamp of approval, and the property owners affected by it had no recourse, in fact, they had no property rights at all. That’s probably another corollary that could be made, but it shall remain untouched for this particular topic.
The bottom line is that government regulation codifies abuses that could otherwise be remedied in a truly free society. Those regulations always come with some sort of corruption. Why? Because regulations concentrate power, power always leads to corruption, and this cycle can be seen over and over again, not only in the United States as the power of the federal government increases, but also throughout the history of the world. In short, if we ever wish to have truly clean air and clean water, real conservationism and healthy environments, we must deregulate the environment and abolish agencies like the EPA. Why? Well, just look at Beijing – if you can, when the smog doesn’t obscure it.
Image: Source: Beijing smog; author: Kevin Dooley/Chander, AZ, USA; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license