Free-Market Environmentalism and Pollution Standards

The special report on the environment "The United States Goes Green," Jan. 12, is up to its normal high standards, with one exception: Some of the statements in the article "Counter Movement Backs Wise Use," on anti-environmentalists, leave the impression that "free-market environmentalism" is part of the counter movement. Free-market environmentalism - endorsed by such hard-core environmentalists as the Environmental Defense Fund - is simply a different approach to enforcing pollution standards and prot ecting natural resources. And it is an approach that, in many cases, would be much more efficient than what we do now.

The government now uses a "command and control" system, in which bureaucrats enforce specific standards and technologies on individual factories and cities. Free-market environmentalism, on the other hand, would use the price mechanisms of the market to induce people to clean up the air and water. A free-market approach would set overall, total allowable emissions in a river basin or air shed and issue permits for no more than that amount. The permits could be bought and sold on the open market, so indiv idual companies could determine how to meet their pollution allowances. A factory could emit what its permit allows; or it could sell the remaining allowance; or it could buy additional permits from other factories. The end result in both cases is reduced pollution. But the free-market approach would be much cheaper for the same result, and it would not cause as much economic dislocation in the process.

Tradeable pollution permits are only one type of free-market mechanism. Others include deposits and rebates, or "green taxes" to raise the prices of things that pollute. Another concern of free-market environmentalists is to get the government to quit subsidizing environmental destruction, to quit subsidizing over-grazing that devastates our public land, and to quit destroying our national forests by selling timber at below cost.

The market approach to solving environmental problems is now endorsed by analysts of many political persuasions as it has been for years by economists. In the next few years, we will see more use of market mechanisms to get people to conserve resources, pollute less, recycle more, and dispose of waste properly. And we can also hope to see the government ending subsidies for the destruction of natural resources. John R. E. Bliese, Lubbock, Texas

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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