Regulation might drive markets, but really good ideas drive revolutions.
Common wisdom says it takes regulation to drive a market. But what if you change the focus, so that while you’re waiting for – or fighting against – the regulation, you have a bunch of other options that convert conservation dollars into action on the ground?
Take public utilities. A map of them covers the country, with few blank spots. The potential is enormous. Some have already taken critical initiatives: the stories we know about range from planting trees along streams to avoid building coolers, to keeping forested watersheds healthy to provide natural filtration. The cost avoidance theme is obvious.
Other utilities are leveraging the payments for ecosystem services (PES) concept to collaborate with landowners and ratepayers to meet their drinking water responsibilities. Imagine, for example, a public utility-led PES program that stays under the regulatory radar, rewards good stewardship with payments derived from small rate increases and other options, works with trusted local intermediaries to manage and monitor the overall program, comes up with a fair and relatively simple valuation system, and provides opportunities for landowners with less-than-stellar land conditions to use Farm Bill or other restoration funding to work their way into good stewardship payments.
Can it work? Why might it not work? Could there be a role for corporate involvement through “landscape labeling” or certification? Should mitigation dollars, development taxes, or other private monies boost the payment fund? What’s the best role for public lands that lie within the source water catchment area?
Please chime in. Regulation might drive markets, but really good ideas drive revolutions.