White House Promotes Environmental Markets and Private Investment

Cheers to the White House this week for issuing new guidance to federal agencies titled Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment.   Here are some excerpts.

We all have a moral obligation to the next generation to leave America’s natural resources in better condition than when we inherited them.  It is this same obligation that contributes to the strength of our economy and quality of life today.  American ingenuity has provided the tools that we need to avoid damage to the most special places in our Nation and to find new ways to restore areas that have been degraded.

Federal agencies implement statutes and regulations that seek simultaneously to advance our economic development, infrastructure, and national security goals along with environmental goals. As efforts across the country have demonstrated, it is possible to achieve strong environmental outcomes while encouraging development and providing services to the American people.

Significantly, the memo goes on to encourage more private investment in environmental protection.

This memo will encourage private investment in restoration and public-private partnerships and help foster opportunities for businesses or non-profit organizations with relevant expertise to successfully achieve restoration and conservation objectives.  One way to increase private investment in natural resource restoration is to ensure that Federal policies are clear, work similarly across agencies, and are implement consistently within agencies.  By encouraging agencies to share and adopt a common set of their best practices to mitigate for harmful impacts to natural resources, the Federal Government can create a regulatory environment that allows us to build the economy while protecting healthy ecosystems that benefit this and future generations.

The memo reaffirms the federal government’s long-standing policy of “avoidance, minimization and mitigation” of impacts to natural resources and directs the DOD, DOI, USDA, EPA and NOAA to develop policies that seek to encourage and advance compensation, including mitigation bank-based approaches.  One need only look at the success of protecting and restoring wetlands in this country that has occurred through compensatory mitigation-banking, spurred by EPA’s and the Corps’ joint 2008 compensatory mitigation rule.

Some Republicans were quick to criticize the President’s announcement, one dubbing it “the most far-reaching environmental regulatory manual” in history.   As one who knows these markets well (and the enormous good they can do) and understands the need for greater clarity and consistency across federal agencies, I have a much different take.  I call this a thoughtful policy and an important step toward fixing many of our wicked big environmental problems.  Christy Goldfuss, head of the White House’s CEQ, posted the following on the White House blog, Encouraging Private Investments in America’s Natural Resources.