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Federalism and Free Markets: The Right Environmental Agenda

Loyola University Federalist Society
March 9, 2006
Becky Norton Dunlop

Many thanks to the Federalist Society leadership.

Great topic and fun to speak about…challenging and controversial.

Today, I would like to discuss the role of individuals and incentives in the stewardship of our natural resources.

Let me begin with a story that my favorite President told on more than one occasion:

This story illustrates what I believe to be the most important principle of an American Conservative Ethic: People are our most important, valuable and precious resource.

This, of course, is true the world over…but is especially important in a free society. Freedom allows people to “be all they can be.”

Our human intellect and knowledge are important as the means by which we make decisions, use information, frame laws and engage in activities that can improve or change our environment.

The science we teach and that we learn should…but does not always, undergird and inform public policy.
• Examples: 
    - Forest management 
    - Farm policy 
    - Water policy 
    - Air quality standards 
    - Independent peer reviews

The ethics and morals that we teach and that we learn should…but does not always, guide our work and our private behavior.
• Examples: 
    - Littering 
    - Dumping 
    - Don’t pollute 
    - Integrity in government taxes

Our public policies should inspire people to be good stewards…of our natural resources and the environment around us. And, they should be good for people as well as the environment.
• Emissions testing in Northern Virginia – ping pong effect


In the United States, we as a people organized ourselves into states and then became the United States of America with a Constitution to guide our national government.

Specific responsibilities were delegated to the United States Government.

Then, of course, there is the 10th Amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

I believe that environmental and natural resource policy is best handled by the states and the people.

Of course, there are certain challenges in this regard but I believe that the ability to deal with these certain challenges between and among states is available to us and the benefits would outweigh the difficulties of dealing with federal bureaucracies on matters dealing with the environment and natural resources.

Furthermore, I think the states and the people in local communities are able to govern themselves better in these matters and would be more willing to seek, identify and implement solutions if this were our working model today.

• Examples: 
    - Off shore development (Seacor) 
    - Water quality 
    - Wildlife 
    - Air quality 
    - Site and specific issues

Now, let me turn briefly to free enterprise. I do believe that ownership inspires stewardship. People who own resources are the most likely to want to care for these resources, protect them, enhance them and use them in a way that will be sustainable. If their property is injured, polluted, or trespassed upon, their rights are violated. And those doing the injury are responsible for it and for the repair of the damage. This would be good law and policy.

We have seen that there is a positive relationship between good stewardship, or wise use of resources and the needs of a society. And the marketplace, or the free enterprise system is the best system for allocating the resources that people want and need. Oftentimes, we find that government policies distort this picture and can have a negative effect on resources.
• Farm policy

Some other lessons of the market system include:

Markets reward efficiency, which is environmentally good.

Market successes breed competition and the lack of subsidy means that unwise activities that are pursued are carried on for shorter durations while wise and prudent activities are sustained.

Incentives of the market place can offer rewards to solve societal environmental problems.

Modern market economies show a direct relationship to cleaner, healthier environment.

We should seek ways in which we can have our environmental policies and problems handled at state and local levels with minimal federal intrusion.

We should turn to the free enterprise system to seek solutions for those challenges that we face today.