Property Rights on Environmental Goods
Encyclopedia of Law and Economics
Posted: 12 Oct 1997
This essay examines the relationship between property rights and environmental protection. According to the 'tragedy of the commons' model, environmental pollution and resource depletion result from the inadequate specification of property rights on environmental goods. Two solutions are typically offered for averting the 'tragedy': (1) specify property rights, i.e., privatize the commons or (2) regulate entry and use. For some environmental goods, such as land, privatization has been the preferred (though not an exclusive) approach. For other environmental goods, such as air and water, regulation has been the preferred (though, again, not an exclusive) approach. Each of these approaches involves the imposition of property rights on formerly 'open access' (nonproperty) resources. Public regulations of entry and use increasingly rely on property 'rights'-based mechanisms, such as tradeable pollution 'rights', to improve regulatory efficiency. Some law and economics scholars maintain, however, that better protection could be achieved at still lower cost by replacing regulatory regimes altogether with a system of well-defined private property rights on environmental goods. They advocate a combination of resource privatization and deregulation as both a necessary and a sufficient remedy for environmental problems. This entry assesses the utility and limitations of property rights on environmental goods.
JEL Classification: K11, K32, Q28, Q38
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation