‘Regulation’ is not a dirty word

By Frank Convery, EDF Chief Economist

This regular column honors the memory of Robert W. Wilson, a longtime EDF supporter and champion of harnessing market forces to drive environmental progress.

The “deconstruction of the administrative state” is an ambition of White House strategist Steve Bannon. To many in the current administration and Congress, this seems to translate into doing away with regulation almost entirely. But history teaches us two things: the market on its own will not protect the public interest when it comes to our environment and those resources we share in common; secondly, how we regulate to protect this public interest is crucial to its success.

One example of the power of sensible regulation is recounted by EDF’s Miriam Horn in her book Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman. Wayne Werner, a Gulf Coast fisherman, tells how his life was transformed when his fishery switched from a flawed regulatory regime—using tactics like evershorter fishing seasons—to catch shares. Catch shares allow year-round fishing while strictly limiting the total catch, assigning each fisherman a percentage share. Since the change, Werner’s catch has more than doubled, prices at the dock have been higher and his costs have dropped. Fewer dead fish are now thrown overboard. And all of this because of smart regulation, which gives fishermen a financial stake in the health of the fishery.

The conclusion is clear: Bad regulation = destruction of nature and a failing economy. Smart regulation = conservation of nature and economic vitality.