Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A pollution market in history

I recently came across a 2014 dissertation by Krystal Tribbett, "RECLAIMing Air, Redefining Democracy: A History of the Regional Clean Air Incentives Market, Environmental Justice, and Risk, 1960 -- present". The abstract:
Depending on whom you ask, the Regional Clean Air Incentive Market (RECLAIM), the nation's first regional smog market, is either a revolutionary approach to cleaning the air of the South Coast Air Basin, the most polluted region in the country, or a failed social experiment that put the interests of business and the marketplace above public health. In its original iteration, RECLAIM rules were intended to produce emissions reductions consistent with the command-and-control approach to compliance embodied in an Air Quality Management Plan, but with greater efficiency, effectiveness, and flexibility—a goal RECLAIM in large part met. In an ideal application of emissions trading, public welfare and economic growth should have been jointly protected, and previous studies of RECLAIM have focused on the normative implications of the program, condemning suspected environmental injustices or praising economic efficiency without exploring the significant historical roots of market-based solutions. A closer look at these historical roots reveals the ways in which RECLAIM actually succeeded in improving air quality through difficult compromises and negotiations by regulators, environmental activists, politicians, and businesses.
This dissertation recounts this fuller history. It is about the history of market-based mechanisms to control air pollution in Southern California, and, in a broader sense, the history of neoliberalism and the process of neoliberalising nature. It traces the history of American air pollution laws from the 1960s to the present and finds a symbiotic relationship between federal and state governing bodies that led to the establishment of RECLAIM. The history told here shows that the development of RECLAIM was not wholly neoliberal, imposed intentionally by policymakers, venture capitalists, or academics with a neoliberal agenda. What emerged out of the archives and newspapers was a story of the organic evolution of markets to address air pollution that was shaped both by political processes and academic/theoretical arguments intended to find a compromise between public demands for clean air, political concern about economic growth, and industry pushback against regulation. This dissertation thus argues that in the United States neoliberal policies to govern nature are outcomes of struggles to balance societal values (like clean air) with political, economic, and scientific realities.

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