This blog posting represents the views of the author, David Fosberry. Those opinions may change over time. They do not constitute an expert legal or financial opinion.

If you have comments on this blog posting, please email me .

The Opinion Blog is organised by threads, so each post is identified by a thread number ("Major" index) and a post number ("Minor" index). If you want to view the index of blogs, click here to download it as an Excel spreadsheet.

Click here to see the whole Opinion Blog.

To view, save, share or refer to a particular blog post, use the link in that post (below/right, where it says "Show only this post").

There Has To Be A Better Way To Protect The Environment

Posted on 14th November 2018

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.

This story from AP News shows how horrifically complex it can be to properly protect the environment, unless some common sense is applied.

North Dakota’s Health Department spent more than 1000 hours of department staff's time, over two years, and received more than 10,000 comments from the public, in its attempts to determine whether to grant a permit for a new oil refinery near the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Having granted permission, they are now being criticised, and having to defend their decision in court.

While I strongly applaud the principles at play here, I do feel that this is a case where working smarter, not harder, would be appropriate.

This is how this kind of problem is dealt with in industry:

  • There needs to be a contract between the permit-granting agency and the developer.
  • The contract must contain enforceable SLAs (Service Level Agreements) defining the maximum allowable pollution levels (and any other critical conditions) and how they will be measured.
  • The contract must contain financial penalties, payable by the developer to the agency if/when the SLAs (pollution levels) are breached. These need to be high enough that the developer will be very strongly motivated to keep within the mandated limits.
  • As insurance against the developer going bankrupt, a significant sum must be placed in escrow (held in a special account usually controlled by a lawyer), which can then be used if needed to pay any penalties. This is what was done in the case of the oil production licence behind this blog entry; the problem is that the amount in escrow simply wasn't large enough to cover the clean-up costs.

What this does, if done properly, is make it too expensive for the developer to fail to meet their obligations on environmental protection. The developer will, if they have any sense at all, conduct a thorough study of the risks and consequences of environmental damage, thus taking at least part of the job out of the hands (and off the budgets) of government agencies. The permit-granting authority still needs to do some environmental analysis, in order to set the pollution levels and associated financial penalties in the SLAs, but this would be far less onerous than it currently is.

All this works on the principle that the potential polluter pays the cost of ensuring that no unacceptable pollution occurs, and if it does, the polluter will pay for cleaning it up.