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Background

Energy Probe Research Foundation is one of Canada's largest independent think tanks, with 17 public policy researchers, assisted by a motivated team of interns, volunteers, and other support staff, working in diverse areas of concern to Canadian citizens.

Our senior staff has demonstrated the country's longest commitment to the environment: Four have been with us since we were founded 20 years ago, and three others first joined us more than 10 years ago. In addition to being unusually tenacious, our staff has drawn an unusual number of honours. Four members are listed in various editions of Who's Who (Probe International's Patricia Adams, Environment Probe's Elizabeth Brubaker, Energy Probe's Norman Rubin, and Urban Renaissance Institute's Lawrence Solomon). Energy Probe's Thomas Adams is a former member of the Independent Market Operator and Pamela Hardie is a former member of the Ontario Energy Board (both bodies help regulate Ontario's power sector). Time Canada listed Probe International's Grainne Ryder among the 40 young Canadians likely to make a difference to the country, and Janet Fletcher was awarded the Conservationist Pioneer Award by the Latornell Symposium.

Our work is also distinguished by its academic standing. Most of our books have been adopted by university courses, our work appears in leading university texts, and it is published by academic publishers in Canada, the United States, and France. Our books have been translated into the Spanish, Bengali, Chinese, Bahasa Indonesia, Japanese, Estonian, and Finnish languages.

Like our staff, our board of directors has also shown a long-term commitment to our foundation and to the environment. Three of our nine current directors have been with us since our inception, and three others have been with us for 10 years or more. Our past directors, who also remained with us for many, many terms, include Thomas Berger, George Erasmus, George Ignatieff, Jane Jacobs, Margaret Laurence, Walter Pitman, David Suzuki and other leaders of Canadian society.

The 10 principles that guide us

The following principles have evolved from our 20-year-long analysis of the root causes of environmental destruction and of the elements of a sustainable society:

  1. We work for environmental sustainability by promoting property rights (private or communal), markets, the rule of law, the right to know, accountability through liability, cost and risk internalization, economic efficiency, competition, consumer choice, and an informed public.
  2. We strive to eliminate tragedies of the commons1 by advocating property rights where resources can be exclusive, divisible, and alienable. In these situations, EPRF believes resources are most sustainably managed by the users of the resources themselves. EPRF advocates property rights:
    • to establish and preserve rights and responsibilities;
    • to account fully for social and environmental costs based on the values assigned by the rights holders; and
    • to internalize risks and costs (and to eliminate moral hazards2) in decision making.

  3. We favour court actions based on the common law of nuisance, trespass, and riparian rights to empower individuals to protect themselves from environmental harm. We do not believe that governments should have the discretion to negotiate with polluters, or with other parties, to override traditional common law protections.


  4. We generally oppose expropriation, which often results in environmental harm. We believe that voluntary agreements more fully internalize costs, protect the environment, and ensure economic efficiency.


  5. We argue for the break up of unnatural monopolies, created by political or regulatory decree. Where natural monopolies exist, we advocate regulation that is mandated to protect the interests of consumers.


  6. Where property rights cannot easily or affordably be assigned or enforced, we strive to eliminate tragic commons through statutory law and regulation. Although rigorous regulation is often required, regulatory authority must seek to avoid creating barriers to entry, stifling innovation, interrupting the flow of information, and forcing regulated parties to act against their best judgement.


  7. We work to ensure the integrity of regulatory systems and the strict enforcement of laws that penalize unauthorized pollution. To eliminate biases and conflicts of interest, and to ensure that public and private sector polluters are treated equally, we advocate independent regulators, who are subject to due process and judicial review, and regulatory processes that require full disclosure of information.


  8. We work to establish decentralized decision-making processes and to devolve decision making to the lowest practicable level that which is closest to the individual.


  9. We oppose subsidies to resource use. Where society favours subsidies to ensure social equity, we favour subsidizing resource users with direct payments, untied to the level of consumption, rather than subsidies that lower the apparent cost of the resource.


  10. We oppose the socialization of private sector costs and risks through government subsidies and indemnities to the corporate sector. For example, while we approve of private insurance as a way to internalize risks and costs, we oppose government indemnities to resource or financial sectors, particularly if those indemnities protect risk takers and polluters from the risks and costs of their activities.

Notes
1 The tragedy of the commons, popularized by Garrett Hardin's essay in 1968, explains individuals' incentives to exploit common resources for personal gain and the exhaustion of the resources in the process. "Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in the commons brings ruin to all." (Return)


2 "Moral hazard" refers to people's increased incentives to take risks when insured. (Return)


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