Monday, April 13, 2009

Monkey Wrench Gang - "Wise Use"

One of the alternative choices, other than environmental activism, is "Wise Use." Wise Use, in its idealized form, advocates careful stewardship of natural resources that allows humans to take advantage of the resources without unduly damaging the enviromnent. Examples of these resources are croplands, oil and water reserves, and minerals.

As with all idealized systems, the theory is good. Everyone benefits and the (ecological) costs are low compared to the (economic) benefits.

However, when the ideal meets reality, there's usually a major disconnect. What the industrial "consumer" thinks is an acceptable cost for economic benefit doesn't always coincide with what the environmentalists view as an acceptable cost.

The other issue is that the damage to the environment is usually not repaired. If the environmental cost is viewed as being less than the economic benefit, or if remediating (repairing or preventing) the damage would cost more than the value of the damage, the company is generally permitted to go forward and develop. The damage happens. Nothing is done about it.

If there is an environmental law, companies will just pay the fine associated with the damage or infraction, rather than fixing the damage or avoiding the infraction. That money is seldom used toward the actual damage.

Just as the "Cigarette settlement" money in Nevada was used to fund the Millennium Scholarship, rather than being used toward health care, environmental fines seldom go toward the issue that caused them.

Wise Use sounds so good on paper. But both sides end up being grumpy because they don't get what they want. Property owners (generally in the West) are restricted from using their land freely, as they wish to. When natural resourses are recovered, there's "collateral damage" that effects more than just the immediate area, in the long run.

A friend took a class from a retired EPA lawyer. The lawyer told the class that when the EPA developed a policy, and promptly got sued by both sides of the issue, the EPA figured they'd gotten the policy just about right.

Wise use? Yes or no?

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