I don’t know what conclusion the correspondent who sent me this pair of articles meant for me to draw, but I think they nicely illustrate how centralizing power with the federal government fails to advance environmental values, while eroding others.
First, there’s the AP story showing deep and extensive ties between offshore oil and gas companies and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement and Regulation. That’s the renamed Minerals Management Service, the agency that was supposed to prevent things like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last summer.
Everyone dreams of a “real regulator” that will clean up industry, protect public values, and smartly manage economic activity. What you routinely end up with is a pro-industry self-dealing agency that fails to protect the values it was assigned while mismanaging productive activity. Case in point.
Next, woe be it to the environmental activist who goes monkey-wrenching government-industry plans. Tim DeChristopher has been sentenced to two years in prison and fined $10,000 for derailing a government auction of oil and gas leases near two national parks in Utah. DeChristopher ran up bids on 13 parcels totaling more than 22,000 acres near Arches and Canyonlands national parks, then failed to make good on his bids.
I suspect I would find DeChristopher’s environmentalism at least overwrought, but when did it become a criminal offense to default on an auction bid? When the government got into the business, that’s when. Instead of, say, pre-qualifying bidders, it evidently just uses its monopoly on coercion to lock up people who mess around with its action.
Command-and-control is probably the simplest way to advance environmental values, but it has failed so dramatically so many times, and it fosters a punitive state that jails its citizens. The simplest way to advance environmental goals may not be the best.
If you prioritize the environment, and if you’ve read this far in this post, I suspect you might be willing to consider more harmonious ways of pushing for a greener planet, ways that respect and use private property rights and that don’t put people in jail. Free-market environmentalism exists, though it’s a ways off from here.