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Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

January 18, 2000

Power to the people? Prof studies best way to clean up environment

When it comes to cleaning up the environment, who should be in charge of punishing polluters: the government or the people they injure?

That is the question economics Prof. Ross McKitrick hopes to answer. Using a behaviour-based model, he will study how polluters and victims work out their conflicts under different sets of rules.

McKitrick, who specializes in examining the relationships between economic activity and the environment, says the riots in Seattle during the World Trade Organization meeting last year point to serious tensions between economic and environmental priorities.

"There is a long-running debate over whether direct regulations are more effective at controlling pollution than a liability law system in which victims can sue polluters," McKitrick said. Liability laws based on individual rights became confusing and costly, and have gradually been replaced by a regulatory system. But that system often leaves citizens out of the process and can be hard to enforce, McKitrick said.

"Our task is to decide which imperfections we can best live with and to improve on existing alternatives," he said.

For his model, McKitrick plans to look at the strategies polluters and victims each use to get their way. "Both groups make choices about the way they present information to the government and the courts, and how closely they conduct their activities to one another. Different laws create different incentives, and we need to compare the resulting outcomes against the goals society as a whole wants to achieve."

For example, a criticism of regulatory systems is that victims rarely get compensated for damages. On the other hand, liability laws may encourage some people to put themselves in harm's way: "Should people who choose to build a house near Pearson Airport in Toronto be allowed to sue for noise damages?" he said.

McKitrick plans to release his findings in the fall. "My challenge is designing economic policies and incentives that can achieve environmentally sound outcomes, which achieve these aims in the least costly way for all concerned," he said.

Contact: Prof. Ross McKitrick, Department of Economics (519) 824-4120, Ext. 2532

For media questions, contact Alex Wooley Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 6982.

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