Another Example of Statist Environmentalism

I’ve discussed statist environmentalism at length on this blog but one of my favorite points to bring up is the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t prevent the emission of pollutants, it licenses pollution. If you want to emit pollutants into the environment you merely have to purchase a license from the EPA.

OK, the EPA doesn’t prevent the emission of pollutants, but they inspect potential sources of pollution to ensure those sources don’t emit pollutants, right? As it turns out, not so much:

Tyler County Emergency Management Coordinator Dale Freeman says just under 20,000 gallons of oil have spilled into Otter Creek off County Road 2590. Tyler County officials were alerted to the spill Saturday by residents who noticed the oil in Otter creek.


The pipeline is owned by Sunoco Logistics and the company says the leak has been patched up and oil is no longer flowing through the pipeline.

Sunoco sent a statement to 12News via email saying “We will perform a thorough investigation into the cause of the incident. Right now, our priorities are the safety of the community, our employees and contractors, and the protection and restoration of the environment.”

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are helping with the clean up. Crews have been ordered to work around the clock until it is complete.

It’s a good thing the EPA is involved in helping with the cleanup effort. After all they apparently forgot to inspect the pipeline, ensure proper oil leak detection capabilities were built into the pipeline, and ensure proper methods were in place to contain any unexpected spillage. In addition to that the EPA is likely to suffer no consequences for failing its supposed mission of protecting the environment.

A question many people may be asking is what alternatives exist to statist environmental protection. Once again I turn to my friend private law, in this case tort law. Tort laws revolve around compensating victims for damages caused by third parties. This system has been the traditionally chosen system for stateless societies such as medieval Iceland, medieval Ireland, the American Frontier, and Neutral Moresnet. In fact tort law was also traditionally used in the United States against polluters until the 1840s. Before the 1840s a person could sue a coal plant if soot emitted from the plant landed on the plaintiff’s property. After the 1840s the state, who has a monopoly on courts, started allowing polluters to emit pollution if they were also providing a “public good” (a term that was defined by the same court that oversaw the suit). Allowing property owners to sue polluters, and therefore hold polluters entirely responsible for the damages they cause, would likely lead to a reduction in polluting entities. Under the EPA polluters are generally immune from prosecution if the amount of pollutants they emit are below a certain threshold set by the EPA. If a polluter wants to emit pollutants above that threshold they must seek the EPA’s permission. Furthermore the amount of damages a polluter is responsible for paying are generally capped, which is why British Petroleum (BP) was able to get away with leaking crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico without going bankrupt.

Were the state’s protections removed from polluters the cost of polluting would increase and, therefore, the instances of emitted pollution would likely go down. If Sunoco Logistics knew they would be entirely responsible for repairing the damages caused by a spill from their pipeline do you think they would forgo effective leak detection, containment mechanisms, and other safety procedures that would reduce the likelihood and severity of a spill? Probably not, and if they did they would find themselves facing bankruptcy in rather quick order. In fact oil companies may find that running pipelines is entirely too costly and find other methods of transporting oil to refineries or they may choose to build smaller refiners at the oil fields (or even find alternatives to oil).

Under a system of private law inspections and regulations would likely be handled by competing entities that would also be held responsible if they failed to perform property inspections or create effective regulations. The EPA, being a state entity, is immune from consequences of performing a poor job or failing to fulfill its responsibilities. Therefore no recourse exists if the EPA approves something that shouldn’t have been approved. If multiple entities were performing inspections and creating regulations then those who did an effective job would likely be relied on while those who did a poor job would likely become irrelevant and therefore go bankrupt.

So long as we continue to put the state in charge of protecting the environment the environment will face constant threat. Decentralizing the power to protect the environment will give more options and offer victims of polluters easier access to compensation, which would encourage potential polluters to contain their messes.