Cutting Green Tape: Toxic Pollutants, Environmental Regulation and the Law

By Bourne, Sandy Liddy | Ideas on Liberty, February 2002 | Go to article overview

Cutting Green Tape: Toxic Pollutants, Environmental Regulation and the Law


Bourne, Sandy Liddy, Ideas on Liberty


Cutting Green Tape: Toxic Pollutants, Environmental Regulation and the Law edited by Richard L. Stroup and Roger E. Meiners

Transaction Publishers * 2000 * 278 pages * $39.95

The past 30 years have seen an explosion in federal and state regulation under the auspices of protecting the environment and public health. As we look around our newly found politically correct, lean, green, clean society, one wonders if our freedom has been swept under the rug along with our common sense. More important, did we achieve what we set out to achieve? Did we learn to maintain a healthy environment through government regulation-or have we proven that excessive regulation is damaging to our natural resources?

Cutting Green Tape is a cry for a sound, reasonable approach to environmental policy with measurable results. Economists Richard Stroup and Roger Meiners investigate the impact of regulation on toxic waste sites with an eye toward human and environmental health benefits. They amply document the use of poor science and phantom risk and the expenditure of billions of dollars with little effect on the actual cleanup of existing hazardous waste sites. In fact, they argue, the regulatory requirements and litigation costs are so burdensome that they are barriers to effectively addressing toxic threats to the environment.

Economics professor Bruce Benson's chapter "Toxic Torts by Government" illustrates a trend of government failures in protecting human health through its own immunity from tort liability as a major producer of toxic waste. How often do newspaper headlines scream about private sector companies under prosecution for alleged violations of the law, when those companies are under government contract or legislative mandates to produce toxic substances such as Agent Orange? As was the case in the Soviet Union, government is often the worst polluter of all.

In a subsequent chapter, "Rent Seeking on the Legal Frontier," Benson examines the impact of regulatory uncertainty over the past 30 years brought about by the changing definition of liability. The move away from traditional tort standards has muddied the waters of secure property rights and liability rules. A wave of judicial activism has raised bankruptcy to a new level of legal defense for firms whose money would be better spent developing technological advances to enhance sustainable practices in environmental stewardship.

Several essays in the book examine the common law as an alternative to governmental regulation. …

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