Can public utilities be accountable?

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Manitoba regulators have charged Winnipeg for polluting the Red River and for failing to report the pollution. In explaining the decision to prosecute, the province cited the need for accountability. But if the city can pass fines along to taxpayers or water customers, is it really accountable for its errors? Continue reading

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Holding Frackers Accountable for Groundwater Pollution: An Analysis of Canada’s Liability Regimes for Hydraulic Fracturing

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This paper, by Adam Shedletzky, focuses on the legal provisions governing groundwater pollution due to fracking for shale gas. It examines the liability regimes (statutory and common-law) in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta. It concludes with recommendations for strengthening the regulatory regime to enhance frackers’ incentives to take care and to ensure that those who are adversely affected by fracking can be “made whole.” Continue reading

Make polluters pay! Back off government!

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In this article in the C2C Journal, Elizabeth Brubaker reviews recent court cases against polluters, large and small, demonstrating that common-law property rights remain powerful tools for environmental protection. But courts are hamstrung when governments authorize pollution. Only when governments don’t stand in the way can people use their property rights to shield themselves from harm. Continue reading

A Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Alternative Financing and Delivery of Water and Wastewater Services

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In this Commentary, published by the C.D. Howe Institute, Elizabeth Brubaker writes that drinking water and sewage systems across Canada threaten public health and the environment. Municipalities lack the resources to correct utility failings. Private water and wastewater services providers are well positioned to help municipalities with needed capital and expertise. Engaged through competitive contracting and governed by performance-based contracts, private providers have incentives to find efficiencies and perform well. Continue reading

River pollution: A lawsuit runs through it

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On the surface, a recent B.C. court case seemed to deny a legal right to clean water. But in fact, since the 19th century, common law has given the users of water downstream from a polluter a clear right to seek redress through the courts.

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The Common Law and the Environment: The Canadian Experience

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A chapter from Who Owns the Environment?, a collection of essays edited by Peter Hill and Roger Meiners exploring the theory that environmental concerns are essentially property rights issues. In this chapter, Elizabeth Brubaker reviews the ancient roots of contemporary property rights and traces their evolution in Canada. She describes the ways in which concerned citizens have used their property rights to clean up and to prevent pollution. She then chronicles successive governments’ efforts to replace the common law with statutes and regulations governing the environment. Lastly, she recommends restoring strong property rights in order to return control over environmental degradation to those most directly affected by it.

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The Public Good: Which Public? Whose Good?

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In this presentation to a Student Seminar on Public Policy Issues, held in Toronto, Ontario, in November 1997, Elizabeth Brubaker argues that remote, centralized governments, driven by political considerations and insensitive to local circumstances, are not the best guardians of the public good. Environmental problems require a diversity of solutions devised by those most affected. Good information and strong property rights give people both tools and incentives to use their resources sustainably.

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Bring back our beaches

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This article, from The Next City, reviews the inadequate sewage treatment processes and the regulatory failures that have led to the closing of beaches across Canada. It documents the environmental benefits arising from the privatization of sewage treatment in England and Wales and examines the institutional changes responsible. It concludes that privatization, if done right, could clean up our beaches.

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Making privatization work for the environment

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Canada’s sewage system is a disgrace. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians dump their sewage, untreated, into our coastal waters. Over a million more contaminate our lakes and rivers with raw sewage. Sewage treatment plants, in desperate need of repair and upgrading, regularly violate provincial and federal laws. In Nova Scotia and British Columbia, non-complying plants are the norm. Six dozen plants in Ontario, and over four dozen in Quebec, exceed their discharge limits. Across the country, sewage pollution contaminates beaches and harbours, puts shellfish grounds off limits to harvesters, and kills fish.

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Property Rights and the Public Good

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An interview, for CBC Radio’s Ideas program, with Patricia Adams, Elizabeth Brubaker, and Lawrence Solomon. A discussion of the environmental, economic, and social harm wrought in the name of the public good, both in Canada and in the Third World, and of the counterbalancing protections offered by traditional property rights regimes.

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Beyond Quotas: Private Property Solutions to Overfishing and Habitat Degradation

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Presentation to Managing a Wasting Resource: Would Quotas Solve the Problems Facing the West Coast Salmon Fishery?, a conference held in Vancouver, BC, in May 1996.

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NIMBY: Learning from the 13th century

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In an editorial in Hazardous Materials Management, Guy Crittenden writes that Property Rights in the Defence of Nature presents “a compelling argument in favour of property rights.”
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Eliminating sewage pollution; reforming fisheries; siting controversial facilities

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Quebec’s bureaucrats don’t appreciate our findings. They complain that our recent study of sewage pollution in Quebec makes them look like they’re incompetent, or not doing their jobs. And no wonder. The study, by Environment Probe researcher Martin Nantel, points out that although Quebec has made considerable progress since the 1970s (when wastewater treatment facilities served less than two per cent of the population), 376 municipalities, representing 1.5 million people, still flush their sewage directly into lakes and rivers. When we released the study early this year, media interest created great consternation in government ranks. The Environment Minister is now demanding explanations from senior bureaucrats, who berate our uncompromising positions.

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Without Obstruction, Diversion or Corruption: The Power of Property Rights to Preserve Our Lakes and Rivers

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A presentation to the Fraser Institute Student Seminar on Public Policy Issues, in Toronto, Ontario, on November 4, 1995.
 

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Curbing sewage pollution

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Before world leaders gathered in Halifax for June’s G-7 summit, organizers fretted over an embarrassing problem: one of the city’s sewage pipes emptied just outside the meeting site, spewing raw sewage into the otherwise scenic harbour. Worried that foreign dignitaries and journalists would smell sewage and spot floating condoms, tampon applicators and toilet paper, politicians devised a plan. Their proposal? To extend a submerged pipe into the harbour, improving the view and sparing the visitors’ noses. The federal government ended up scrapping the plan, but not because merely hiding the sewage wouldn’t solve the problem. On the contrary, it simply deemed the $1 million project too expensive.

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Ontario’s Sewage Treatment Plants and Their Effect on the Environment

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This report looks at the different types of sewage treatment in Ontario, the rules and guidelines purported to regulate treatment plants, the pollution caused by the noncompliant plants, and the environmental, health and social effects of that pollution. It also recommends a number of changes that should be made to stop sewage pollution.

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Making the Oceans Safe for Fish: How Property Rights Can Reverse the Destruction of the Atlantic Fisheries

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This excerpt from Property Rights in the Defence of Nature reprinted by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, describes the ways in which fisheries owners have used their property rights to protect fish and habitats.

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Property rights in the defence of nature

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Over a century ago, in 1885, Antoine Ratté filed a lawsuit against several of Canada’s most notorious polluters. That suit and the government’s reaction to it established a shameful pattern that governs pollution across Canada to this day.

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Nature’s Case for Restoring Strong Property Rights

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In this presentation to a Student Seminar on Public Policy Issues in 1994, Elizabeth Brubaker describes the ways in which individuals and businesses use property rights to protect the environment and how, when governments take away property rights, the environment suffers.

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