Private Action Against Polluters More Effective than State

The most efficient and determined anti-pollution organisation in Britain is not one of the government-appointed bodies but a voluntary organisation, the Anglers' Conservation Association (ACA), claims Dr Roger Bate. The ACA's success is powerful evidence against the argument that individuals either cannot or will not protect the environment.

Dr Bate's Research Monograph for the IEA* is based on work he carried out for his PhD at the University of Cambridge. He traces the history of the ACA back to its founding in 1948 as a voluntary association of angling clubs and individual anglers which brings civil suits against polluters who harm fishing.

Bate shows how the ACA uses the common law to indemnify its members against the costs of litigation and demonstrates how successful it has been. Most of its actions are not general suits against threats to the environment but specific actions against individual polluters. It has brought thousands of such actions and has been awarded hundreds of injunctions and millions of pounds in damages for plaintiffs. Most cases, however, end in out-of-court settlement. Though that is efficient, it means the ACA has not achieved the public recognition it merits, given the extent to which it has reduced pollution of rivers by individuals, private companies, and central and local government organisations.

The success of the ACA, says Bate, stems from its defence of civil rights and its '...urging (of) individuals and co-operatives (clubs) to acquire property rights in the environment in which they pursue their leisure interests.' (p 112). By contrast, political 'ownership' of the environment has failed to protect it and government policies which attempt to override common law interests have proved ineffectual.

A more general lesson from this case study, concludes Dr Bate, is that the environment is best protected under private ownership.

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