Our Principles

What we do

The Energy Probe Research Foundation works to promote social, economic, and environmental well-being in Canada and abroad.

How we do it

We are neither left wing nor right wing. Our fundamental concern is with process. We rarely argue for particular ends, because the world is too complex to know what they should be. Rather, we argue for the means – the rule of law, markets, the ballot box – to hold decision-makers accountable for the consequences of their actions.

We apply sound scientific and economic analysis to environmental challenges.

We promote “bottom-up” environmentalism, and champion the use of property rights and decentralized decision making to empower individuals and communities to protect the environment. We believe in the good judgement and incentives of ordinary people, and we work to put power and information in the hands of those most affected by decisions.

We believe that environmental protection and economic progress go hand in hand, and that the interests of one need not be achieved at the expense of the other. Furthermore, we believe that the economy and the environment require many of the same conditions – such as diversity and feedback – to thrive.

The fine print 

We promote the rule of law, the right to know, accountability through liability, cost and risk internalization, economic efficiency, property rights (private or communal), markets, competition, and consumer choice.

The following principles and priorities have evolved from our 30-plus years of analysis of the root causes of environmental destruction and the elements of a sustainable society. (Click on the links to learn about how we have put our principles into practice.)

We work to establish decentralized decision-making processes and to devolve decision making to the lowest practicable level – that which is closest to the affected individuals.

We strive to eliminate tragedies of the commons1 by advocating property rights where resources can be exclusive, divisible, and alienable. In these situations, we believe resources are most sustainably managed when users themselves own and manage them.

We advocate property rights:

•  to establish and preserve rights and responsibilities;

• to account fully for social and environmental costs based on the values assigned by the rights holders; and

• to internalize risks and costs (and to eliminate moral hazards2) in decision making.

• We favour court actions based on the common law of nuisance, trespass, and riparian rights to empower individuals to protect themselves from environmental harm. We do not believe that governments should have the discretion to negotiate with polluters, or with other parties, to override traditional common law protections.

We generally oppose expropriation, which often results in environmental harm. We believe that voluntary agreements more fully internalize costs, protect the environment, and ensure economic efficiency.

Where property rights cannot easily or affordably be assigned or enforced, we strive to eliminate tragic commons through statutory law and regulation. Where regulation is required, regulatory authority must be independent and provide all affected individuals and groups due process and access to information, while avoiding creating barriers to entry, stifling innovation, interrupting the flow of information, or forcing regulated parties to act against their best judgement.

We work to ensure the integrity of regulatory systems and the strict enforcement of laws that penalize unauthorized pollution. To eliminate biases and conflicts of interest, and to ensure that public- and private-sector polluters are treated equally, we advocate independent regulators, who are subject to due process and judicial review, and regulatory processes that require full disclosure of information.

We argue for the break up of unnatural monopolies, created by political or regulatory decree. Where natural monopolies exist, we advocate regulation that is mandated to protect the interests of consumers.

We oppose subsidies to resource use. Resource subsidies encourage waste, often directly promote environmental harm, and, as a tool for delivering political favours to select constituencies, promote the abuse of power. Where society favours subsidies to ensure social equity, we favour subsidizing disadvantaged people with direct payments, untied to their level of consumption, rather than providing subsidies that lower the apparent cost of resources.

We oppose the socialization of private costs and risks through government subsidies and indemnities. For example, while we approve of private insurance as a way to internalize risks and costs, we oppose government indemnities to resource or financial sectors, particularly if those indemnities protect risk takers and polluters from the risks and costs of their activities.

Lastly, we believe that good decision-making requires sound scientific and technical analysis that is free of political distortions.

Notes
1 The tragedy of the commons, popularized by Garrett Hardin’s essay in 1968, explains individuals’ incentives to exploit common resources for personal gain and the exhaustion of the resources in the process. “Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in the commons brings ruin to all.” (Return)
2 “Moral hazard” refers to people’s increased incentives to take risks when insured. “Moral hazard” exists when institutions and incentives induce a person to abandon moral behaviour: If politicians and civil servants can award contracts for multi-million dollar public works projects without public oversight or legal accountability, they can be easily induced to award contracts to the firms that pay them bribes. Such circumstances are hazardous to their morals.  (Return)

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