Private property is a necessary but insufficient tool for environmental regulation. Why is it necessary? There are several reasons. First, it settles who controls a resource, making rational management possible. While this may sound trivial, countries with weak or fragmented systems of ownership--or where enforcement of law is tainted by corruption--find it impossible even to begin to preserve resources or prevent pollution. This is especially the case when different individuals make conflicting claims to the same plot of land.
Second, private property owners have the incentive to preserve the capital value of their land. They can reap where they (or nature) have sown. They postpone harvesting their property (by cutting a forest, for example) until a propitious time. This choice is a cousin to environmental protection. Private ownership involves control of appetite and rational planning. It similarly solves the problem of open access to a resource, which leads to destruction, because all may have an incentive to reap but none have any incentive to sow--or even to defer use.
Private property owners can also be effectively regulated. Regulators can easily locate owners of land and many other natural resources. To the extent that the resource is valuable or the owner competes in a market, regulators have a generally effective lever for enforcement of laws. This obvious point is not unimportant; clear expectations of effective enforcement are an aspect of the rule of law. Reducing enforcement costs enhances the efficiency of regulations in reaching public goals.
28 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol'y 679-689 (2005)
Scholarly Commons Citation
Byrne, J. Peter, "Property and Environment: Thoughts on an Evolving Relationship" (2005). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 932.