On The Issues

Environment

In Brief

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The best way to respect the environment is to respect property rights.

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All forms of pollution should be treated as trespassing.

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Change the law such that new owners are not held liable for the environmental sins of former owners.

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Eliminate the coercive, government-spawned monopoly utilities.

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The fracking boom is good for Pennsylvania, but the property rights of the surrounding communities must be protected.

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Whenever a fracker trespasses upon the environment with their wastes, they should be treated like any trespasser and held liable for their mess, and be forced to clean it up or be shut down.

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To encourage the continued economic development of Pennsylvania, there should be no taxation of fracking.

In Depth

Pollution

The Libertarian Party is different from the two old parties in that we are the party of principle. Every law we support, every law we oppose, can all be traced to one central principle: that your life is yours, your property is yours, that you have the God-given, inalienable right to live your life your way, without government interference, provided that you respect the rights and property of others. As a result, Libertarians are as pro-environment as they come.

Most environmental laws today are on the wrong track. They try to spell out every last detail of what pollutants can appear where, how much is acceptable, even defining how the right to pollute can be sold. The unfortunate results of their policies surround us. But if we returned to the tried and true methods learned from experience, we would have a much cleaner planet.

The best way to respect the environment is to respect property rights. When it comes to pollution, this respect translates into the concept that all forms of pollution should be treated as trespassing. If we treated pollution as a trespass, then should someone’s pollution leak, blow, or fall onto their neighbor’s property, the simple solution would be to tell them to stop trespassing and get their junk off the property. If they didn’t, all of the existing remedies for trespass would apply, such as local police assistance, court injunctions to stop the trespassers, and a court order to have them remove their mess. This would work for landfills, nuclear waste, acid rain, loud stereos, bright lights, simple trash, and a host of other pollution problems.

But good as it is, this approach only addresses the larger part of the problem, namely those cases where the polluter is known. For past infractions where the polluter has vanished, a large part of the problem could be addressed by changing the law such that new owners are not held liable for the sins of former owners.

This single change would make a huge difference. There are many old industrial sites that no one will touch because the full extent of any environmental damage is unknown. So no one even considers buying these properties because they’d be left holding someone else’s bag of pollution, liability claims and all. The result is that the properties sit unused and unbought, an eyesore and an albatross around the neck of their communities. But if the liability were pinned on the original polluter rather than the buyer, then more of these properties would be bought and cleaned up without using any taxpayers money. The new owner would not need to fear bankrupting litigation. Everybody would win.

Of course, there will always be a few, very bad sites that would need to be addressed on a one-by-one basis. But the vast majority of the cases could be cleaned up by these two initiatives: treating pollution as a trespass and holding the polluter liable.

Fracking

The fracking boom is good for Pennsylvania. It brings in much-needed revenue and many, many jobs. However, we must be cautious when tapping the riches fracking has made available to us, and the best way is to respect property rights.

Fracking in and of itself is not a danger to the environment because it happens over a mile beneath the water tables. What does pose a danger is the drilling process itself and the disposal of waste products. But as with any potentially dangerous activity (mining, oil drilling, landfills, nuclear power, and more), the property rights of the surrounding communities must be protected. Waste products must be properly treated and not simply dumped into streams; and whenever a fracker trespasses upon the environment with their wastes, they should be treated like any trespasser and held liable for their mess, and be forced to clean it up or be shut down.

Fracking can ensure the continued economic development of Pennsylvania for decades to come. To encourage that development, there should be no taxation of fracking. The role of government should be limited to the protection of the citizens and their property.

Electricity

For virtually all of its commercial history, electricity has been heavily regulated by the government. Until very recently, a person was forced by law to accept electrical power from only one certain, government-designated monopoly. But a few states are finally realizing the benefits that a free market can bring and are finally allowing multiple electric companies to serve a single market.

Now there are a fortunate few consumers who are no longer compelled to buy power generated by dirty power plants, no longer force-fed fossil fuels. “Green” power is finally available for those who want it, now that government has gotten out of the way. The environmentally-conscious person can “just say no” to nuclear power, and the socially-conscious can easily boycott the environmentally irresponsible power companies.

But despite these recent advances toward freedom, the market- distorting hand of government still retains a firm grip on the industry. Power distribution is still a virtual monopoly. Utilities are forced to purchase power from small producers, whether or not they wish to. “Rights to pollute” are sold on an open market, guaranteeing that inefficient, polluting power plants will continue to operate and continue polluting. Until the coercive, government-spawned monopolies are ended, problems will continue to plague the electric industry.

Indeed, everywhere the hand of government touches, troubles quickly follow. Along with their electric monopolies come rolling brownouts. Their school monopolies produce children who can’t read. Their control of the highways brings traffic jams. Their control of the water supplies brings droughts. Electricity choice is now helping to mitigate some of the problems in that industry, but now we need highway choice, water choice, retirement plan choice, insurance choice, all the freedoms a free people deserve. And the only way to bring about those choices is to vote Libertarian.

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