Archive for the ‘John Baden’ Category

Breaking the senseless impasse on ANWR and OCS exploration and development – a tax and rebate proposal

July 16th, 2008 10 comments

It’s long been obvious that:

(1) government policy concerning the use of public lands is highly bureaucratized, often inept and subject to behind the scenes sweet deals favoring insiders;

(2) discussions about how the public lands should be used often very politicized;

(3) politicization is especially prominent with respect to public lands that have potentially high commercial value but where development requires additional approvals from legislators or others outside of the Administration/regulatory bureaucracy – such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the native lands within it, which cannot be explored without Congressional approval, and the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), further development of which has been blocked both by Executive Order and by annual moratoria imposed by Congress, with the strong backing of many coastal states that wish to protect their tourism industries; and

(4) supporters on both sides – whether for development of ANWR and OCS or for the continued preservation of wildlife, recreation or tourism values or protection of other objectives – have perfectly legitimate interests, and excellent arguments to make (and some not so excellent) in support of those interests.

But it has not been so obvious that the different interests are in fact irreconcilable, especially when one notes how well conservation groups that own land have been able to balance their conservation objectives with active resource extraction – which can be done carefully while providing revenues for other activities.  In fact, I suppose that if any of the major environmental groups had been given title to ANWR, development would have been well underway years ago (as I have previously suggested).  Likewise, the states that have until now blocked further OCS development have done so in good part because the federal government takes the lion’s share of the royalty revenues, while leaving the states and local communities with the short end of the stick and the risks of feared development disasters.

So – for the rather simple reason that there is no private owner of the resources at stake, but instead a politically-controlled legal owner (the U.S. citizens via their government) and an array of shadow owners (the various interest groups and bureaucrats) who have been unable either to conclude any deals or to force their preferences down the throats of those they disagree with – we have deadlock, with valuable resources sitting in the ground, and possibilities for mutually beneficial deals lost.  This is a rather basic analysis that has been recognized by libertarian thinkers and free market environmentalists like John Baden for quite some time.

Recently, in response to a proposal by Iain Murray of CEI that ANWR and the OCS be opened to development, I indicated some further thoughts on possible paths forward:

The key is to end politicized control, not to run roughshod over conservationists.  If we are serious about ANWR, we ought to simply cede it to the Sierra Club or The Nature Conservancy.  They would certainly pump from it AND protect it, and use the revenues to support more important conservation projects.   As for the OCS, exploration is limited only because states don`t want to bear the burden of pollution risks with a slim share of revenues.  With more generous revenue sharing, more OCS development will occur.

However, I’d like to change tack a little bit, as these disputes are part of the bigger problem of federalized management, and we are unlikely to see Congress act in the near future to privatize ANWR or other federal lands, or even to turn them over to environmental groups to manage.  We face a real problem with respect to most of federal lands that revenues from resource extraction go into the big black hole of general funds, with very little ability of the resource managers to capture the benefit of managing well, and very little incentive by American taxpayers to make sure that resources are well-managed, priced to receive good returns and do not leave taxpayers generally holding the bag for environmental risks.  A litany of horror stories could easily be assembled on these points. 

How can we get started on improving incentives on our government resource management projects?  Well, a small idea occurs to me:

I’ve recently reviewed a slew of recent arguments on the climate change front and noted wide-ranging support (driven by equity, efficiency and expedience) for a federal carbon pricing scheme (whether by carbon taxes or by emission rights under a cap and trade scheme), particularly if all of the funds raised by the tax or permit sale are passed through to Americans on a per capita basisWhy couldn’t we apply the same concept to ANWR and the OCS lands, with a small percentage being kept by the relevant oversight agency to fund and incentivize oversight? 

If royalty revenues are passed through to citizens, Americans will directly benefit from moving ahead (without encouraging government bloat), so that development will not be seen as simply a giveaway by politicians to evil oil and gas companies.  Further, citizens (and entrepreneurial prosecutors) will have greater incentives to monitor government performance (as in not giving away the resources too cheaply, and actually collecting revenues owed), and will able use the dividend checks to fund, to their hearts’ content, further environmental protection.  In the case of the OCS, clearly a greater cut of the royalties ought to go to citizens in the relevant coastal states to compensate them for the relatively higher environmnetal risks they bear.

To incentivize the environmental groups to support this type of approach, as well as to provide better assurance of environmental oversight, I would suggest that new leases to explore or develop in ANWR and the OCS include as a contracting party an environmental group, either as the direct lessee (subcontracting to a preferred oil and gas company) or as environmental risk manager, in either case capturing a share of the royalty.  The environmental groups will reap some benefit (that they can use for other projects) and will be subject to oversight by their members, and to competition from other environmental groups to protect wildlife and other values.

Such schemes would incentivize all stakeholders to work together in a win-win manner, while minimizing environmental risk, and directly rewarding citizens and leading to improved resource management.

Maybe the strong desire of many to see carbon pricing at the federal level can be leveraged to enhance both environmental protection AND economic growth, while streamline government and rewarding good resource management, at least in the case of ANWR and the OCS.  (Next up, federal lands – forests, hard rock mining and oil and gas – generally!)

Just a thought.

John Baden: is this free market enviromentalist stalwart a Mt. Pelerin misanthrope/watermelon?

December 16th, 2007 No comments

[snark meter – medium] 

John Baden, a former logger and oilman, has long been a pillar of the “free-market” environmentalists.  He founded and leads the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment (FREE) and founded and headed the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), both based in Bozeman, Montana.;

But don’t let his Mont Pelerin Society ( membership fool you; John is very green on the outside and, with so much green, might he not be more than a little pink on the inside?

He recently summarized advice he had given (on request) to policy advisers for a Democratic presidential candidate and a Republican one.  Allow me to quote freely (emphasis added):

“Both parties need help—but in opposite directions. Republicans need sensitivity to Green issues, Democrats sensibility regarding incentives.”

We are … eager to help all candidates develop sound policies, ones we believe will foster responsible liberty, environmental quality, and modest prosperity. Over the decades, we’ve made compelling, well-respected arguments against the Green tradition of greater bureaucratic powers, increased federal control, and heightening paranoia over environmental issues.

“From the Civil War until the first Earth Day in 1970, the West’s politics, culture, and economy were oriented toward the exploitation of its natural resources. But the extractive sector no longer drives the Western economy and hasn’t for several decades. Today’s economic drivers are amenities, services, and symbolic manipulation, not the traditional material stuff of wood, wheat, water, and minerals. …

“Here’s the reality some politicians ignore at their peril: we’ve high-graded our best, most accessible resources. The richest ores, finest timber, and best dam sites have been developed. The easy fruit has been picked and the Western economy can no longer rely on the extractive sector. No ghost dance will bring them back.

“Ray Rasker notes that since 1970, “Montana has added over 150,000 new jobs, and not one of the new net jobs has been in mining, oil and gas, farming, ranching, or the woods products industry.” The extractive industries are notoriously unstable, and commodity prices always undulate. The timber industry, for example, has largely abandoned the West for the Southeast and foreign countries. …

Now, increased opportunities in the West are created by high-tech enterprises and services. The service sector includes professional occupations in law, health care, software, data processing, education, and finance. Although they are not the traditional Western jobs, these occupations, like those in extractive industries, depend upon open space and natural resources.

“Why? Because professionals seek locations rich in environmental amenities, e.g., wilderness, open space, fish and wildlife, and recreational opportunities. Data indicates the West’s roadless public lands, wilderness areas, free-flowing rivers, national parks and forests, open ranges, and healthy wildlife habitats generate much of our economic growth. Folks don’t move here by accident nor do they do so to maximize income—quality of life trumps.

“The GOP and the Democrats compete for well-off and well-educated voters, those David Brooks describes in Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, and the Democrats are clearly winning. This is no accident; the nation has become immensely wealthy, and with wealth and education comes heightened environmental sensitivity. When Americans become wealthy most think, or at least posture, Green.

President Clinton capitalized on these demographic realties when he set aside 40 million acres of National Forest as roadless areas. Many fiscal conservatives and the vast majority of Westerners applauded the decision, even those who disliked Clinton.

These roadless areas were undisturbed for good reason; most have low economic value. Without explicit or implicit subsidies, resource extraction on these lands is infeasible. Federal lands are political lands where heavy subsidies are the norm. Traditional politics have ignored or discounted the full costs of exploitation. Citizens now demand more honest accounting of both economic and environmental costs.

A candidate who hopes to capture the West’s electoral votes should not take seriously any campaign policy that ignores links between ecology and economics. Westerners are Greener, more sophisticated, and better informed than 30 years ago. Few are dependent on traditional resource exploitation. A good candidate will discern the implications and propose appropriate policies. 

Inquiring minds want to know:

– are only those in the American West “Greener, more sophisticated, and better informed than 30 years ago”, or is this true across all developed and emerging economies?

– does “heightened environmental sensitivity” come with “wealth and education”?  Or is such “heightened environmental sensitivity” simply a ploy by the educated wealthy to use the tools of the state to restrict access by brave captains of the extractive industry to the public lands of the West (the better to go fly fishing)?

– outside of the struggle for control over “public lands” in the West, are there any other areas where voters oppose policies that “ignore links between ecology and economics”?

if “heightened environmental sensitivity” does come with “wealth and education”, what do we make of the concern that enviros, scientists, industry leaders, and politicians around the world all express concern about climate change and the pressure of economic activity on unowned commons like the atmosphere, oceans and tropical forests/wildlife?  More uninformed nonsense, led by evil man-haters?

By not stridently demanding privatization of public lands, John Baden sounds like an “incrementalist” rather than a pure libertarian, and by urging policies that favor recognition of the relatively higher values in environmental amenities than in extractive industries, he sounds very much like an environmentalist statist.  

Does it help us to better understand him, or the problems that concern him, if we call him a misanthropic “watermelon”?


Warning:  If you are an Austrian, you have just been gravely polluted by reading this.  Seek help immediately, and recite the “Corrigan Creed” (or as some may have it, the “Reisman Rule”) at least five times.

(If you missed it, the Corrigan Creed is here: