Millstein-Turnbach-Perugini: A victory for the protection of Vermont’s ecosystems

This commentary is by Macie Millstein, Cassady Turnbach and Nicholas Perugini, who live in Burlington and are affiliated with the University of Vermont.

To address the threats of climate change and natural resource scarcity, our government officials must implement policies that encourage conservation while punishing corporate neglect.

While not a silver bullet, the idea of ​​a common asset trust is a way to effectively create common property rights to protect ecosystems from private exploitation.

A common asset trust is a set of policies, institutions and funds that aim to sustainably manage our natural capital assets. Trust controls are enforced through the cooperative efforts of society and government, which ultimately ensures that the agreements of a property rights regime are maintained.

This system operates on principles founded by Nobel Prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom, who affirms the importance of collective bargaining, participatory systems and an appropriate structure of nested companies to oversee resolutions.

Modern neoclassical economic theory supports the position that the private market model, as opposed to the public model of pooled asset trusts, is a superior strategy for resource management and responsible use. As explained in an essay written by Robert J. Smith in 1981, overexploitation and overexploitation of natural resources is a feature of public land ownership. In the public model, each actor is “pitched” against each other and the fear of scarcity results in the rapid depletion of the stock.

Smith argues that in the private model there are incentives for stock preservation, such as the economic gain from hunting or even the personal pleasure derived from stock ownership.

Although there are inherent incentives for private land ownership, environmental degradation is repeatedly characterized by private greed. An example of this is the Elizabeth copper mine in South Strafford, opened under the ownership of James W. Tyson of the Tyson Mining Co. Prior to its closure in 1958, nearly 100.5 million pounds of copper were mined from the surface and underground mining. sites.

Due to insufficient regulation, this private mine externalized production costs, resulting in pollution so severe that the mine was declared a Superfund site in 2001. Twenty years and $90 million later, the former copper mine approaching the end of the sanitation process.

While not all private development projects end in environmental ruin, the sale or lease of public land in Vermont is likely to end in such an outcome due to improper policy. When factoring in property values ​​and the value of minerals mined annually, mining companies in Vermont pay only 1.6% in property taxes.

Minerals, a non-renewable resource, risk becoming extremely scarce with overexploitation. which could threaten the availability of many jobs in Vermont. There will be a loss of revenue as well as the costly liability of mine site cleanup and environmental damage. This burden often falls on the average citizen and taxpayer, who must pay for the collective damages caused by extractive industries that place the cost of externalities on the public.

Vermont, a state rich in natural capital, can enhance the protection of these resources through the formation of a common asset trust. The Vermont Common Asset Trust was proposed in 2005 by Gary Flomenhoft of the Gund Institute. In 2007, the Vermont Common Asset Trust was turned into a bill by State Senator Hinda Miller and Gund Director Robert Costanza to enact policies to protect the commons and benefit the commons. Current and future Vermonters. It was reintroduced in 2011 and again in 2012, without managing to go beyond the committee.

With renewed support, the Vermont Common Asset Trust has the power to benefit future Vermonters by better protecting resources such as groundwater. Although abundant in our state, groundwater is a finite resource that most Vermonters depend on.

Vermont is the only New England state that does not regulate commercial water bottling industries, and several companies extract Vermont water for sale in other states and outside the United States. Unregulated resource development leaves Vermont ecologically and economically endangered, vulnerable to depletion of water resources and damage to aquatic ecosystems.

On top of that, the threat of scarcity problems hangs over future generations. Proponents of the Vermont Common Asset Trust aim to manage Vermont’s groundwater through aquifer quota policies, rent collection, and dividend payments to all citizens.

The sale of public land to private entities raises the question of whether the net benefit really outweighs the insurmountable costs incurred by mining and development. The Vermont Common Asset Trust is a step toward responsible resource use and sustainable land management to protect the health of the planet and future generations.