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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Rethinking Environmental Policy

    “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a wise waste management policy and words to live by. However, we also need to “Rethink” our approaches to environmental policy and the role of government in its enforcement.

    Government organizations, implemented by legislation or executive order, tend to be large and intrusive. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example, has largely been a positive motivator for environmental awareness. This large federal bureaucracy, however, also uses its power to violate states rights. Back in February, the EPA blocked 16 states from raising fuel economy standards for new cars, with unreasonable justification. Presumably, EPA administrators were trying to shield automakers from environmental responsibility. Though, thankfully, this type of abuse of power is not too frequent. But the fact that any federal agency not administrated by elected officials has this level of authority is worrisome. Furthermore, it is against the spirit of the Constitution to forbid states from making their own environmental policy, especially when that policy would tend to improve the environment.

    Without federal agency to police our treatment of the environment, how would we ensure a healthy planet? One effective idea could be to implement property law. The idea that the role of government is to protect individual’s private property is set into the Constitution. However, what constitutes property? Certainly the land we build our houses on, but also the air we breathe and the water we draw from our wells and reservoirs are also private property. This is private property that can be greatly affected by other individuals and as such, must be monitored by the public.

    If some corporation dumped its garbage in the backyards of private homes, they could be tried under the domain of destruction of private property. Similarly, if air quality is being compromised by smoke stack emissions, this compromises the health of individuals. Pollution of the air or water is to threaten of the private individual’s right to pursue health and happiness.

    The idea of private property is fundament to civil rights. Every individual has the right to own property and remain relatively undisturbed on that property. However, when one neighbor does something that can threaten the civil liberties of another, it is the government’s role to step in.

    However, large federal bureaucracy is not needed to mandate the property laws. This has its place in the court system, as was intended by the founding fathers. Environmental monitoring systems and standards could be set up by state and local levels, rather than implementing some blanket plan across a large and diverse nation. The government has a role in funding research into environmental science, but how that research should be applied should be up to the states and communities, thereby avoiding at least some of the corruption and political skew seen in EPA administrators at the federal level.

    Additionally, we should rethink the role of federal government in regulating greenhouse gas emissions and coming up with alternative energy solutions.

    Cap and trade policy, which sets up a market for carbon emissions trading, is a gross violation of the concept of the free market. In a financial stock market, shares of businesses are traded because there is an incentive to invest when there is money to be made from successful businesses. In carbon emissions trading, the government decides on how to assign monetary value to greenhouse gases. Each company is allowed a certain amount of greenhouse emissions, and then must buy “pollution rights” from another company who has pollution to spare.

    The problem with this system is that there is no incentive for trading, only financial punishment. This is a poor approximation of the free market. In cap and trading systems, prices aren’t set by the laws of supply and demand, but by the government. Putting a specific price on carbon emissions requires a lot of research, in order to avoid cap and trade problems such as those seen in Europe. Set too high a price, corporations will needlessly suffer, passing on higher operating costs to the consumers. Set too low a price, and the system is ineffectively expensive.

    There is little doubt in my mind that global warming is occurring because, at least in part, of anthropogenic forcings. However, that does not mean that I support government-sponsored hysteria in the matter.

    Once again, at the urge of environmentalists, the government has overstepped its bounds in sponsoring alternative fuel sources. Providing subsidies for crop-based ethanol is a bad idea, because there is little market demand for these types of biofuels. They are affordable only with massive taxpayer support, but are economically unfeasible now, in wide scale use. Also, it provides incentive for farmers to turn farmland from food to fuel, driving up prices at the supermarket.

    Funding other alternative energy and technology, before the market is ready for them, is a costly risk. Technological solutions to environmental problems will come, but entrepreneurs in the free market must make them, when they are economically sustainable. When government tries to force the hand of the free market too much, the economy weakens.

    The most important role the government could have right now is to stay out of the markets and to scale down its meddling during times of economic hardships and let the free market come up with solutions for itself. Meanwhile, state and communities should educate citizens about the importance of developing sustainable solutions to environmental worries, so that we are a population of smart consumers, with a demand for environmentally friendly consumer goods.

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