A dairy farmer who has been polluting Ontario’s Lake Simcoe has hit the jackpot, winning a grant of $99,950 to construct and maintain a concrete tank to store manure from his 55-cow milking herd.
Environment Canada announced the grant on Tuesday, explaining that the project will significantly reduce the levels of phosphorus and other nutrients entering the watershed. It didn’t explain why it chose to reward a major polluter with a grant, rather than slapping him with a fine – why, in other words, it administers a system of “polluter gets” rather than “polluter pays.”
This grant and several others included in Tuesday’s announcement of another $4.1 million in Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Funds send the wrong message: They imply that farmers and other polluters must clean up their acts only if taxpayers pay them to do so.
Two grants will directly subsidize individual farmers’ efforts to keep manure out of Lake Simcoe. Another four grants, amounting to almost $2.3 million, will subsidize farmers and others indirectly, through local stewardship associations. They will fund projects that control erosion – in some cases, by planting tall-grass buffer strips along drainage ditches, creeks, and rivers that flow into the lake – or otherwise help farmers manage their land sustainably. They will also benefit other landowners, for example, by helping them replace septic tanks.
The Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund is designed to preserve and protect the lake, and to help secure Canadians’ rights to enjoy clean, safe water. The best way to do that is to ensure that people living in the watershed understand that they have no right to foul it. It must be clear that it is their responsibility to control pollution from their property. And they should do so without subsidies from taxpayers.
We don’t normally pay people not to break the law – why should we pay farmers or others not to pollute Lake Simcoe?
In 2009, I wrote in the National Post: “Paying farmers not to pollute defies a widely accepted economic principle at the heart of environmental sustainability – the need to internalize the costs of pollution, or make pollution prevention part of the cost of farming. It replaces ‘polluter pays’ with ‘polluter gets.’ Paying farmers not to pollute also makes a mockery of our environmental laws, both ancient and modern. Under these laws, pollution is met not with rewards but with penalties.”