Monday, July 25, 2011

What would 'Party X 'do about the environment? Part 2: 'A Nuisance and a BOR'

    Imagine a ‘Party X’ that was actually committed to opposing statism ,and to advocating for free enterprise. Imagine such a party had a cabinet committing to rolling back the state, and an environment minister brimming over with ideas to do that.
    Here, in several parts, are the sort of environmental policies such a party (and such a minister) could advocate. Seven simple policies using present-day political realities to roll back the state without introducing any new coercion along the way.
This morning, two proposals to propel property rights towards the heart of New Zealand life:

diving for pennies2The newspapers this morning carry the news that  the world-famous famous penny-divers at Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa are being told by the authorities not to swim in the Puarenga River if they value their health. It seems the stream is being seriously polluted.

    Tests over the years have shown poor results for water quality and [authorities] says companies like the Red Stag Timber Mill could be doing much better.
    But Tim Charleson, the mill's environmental manager, says the company carries out regular chemical tests on its effluent and it's meeting the conditions of its resource consents.

I have no doubt Red Stag et al are indeed “meeting the conditions of [their] resource consents.” But as this story and others clearly demonstrate, resource consents are not a form of environmental protection. If you think they are, think again.

In cases like this one and all over the country, from the Tarawera River (into which the paper mill has a license to dump chlorine and worse) to Akaroa Harbour (where the council has given itself a license to dump nearly raw sewage), a resource consent is nothing more than a license to pollute.

The RMA, under which resource consents like this are issued, is hopeless at protecting the environment because it’s hopeless at protecting property rights. Contrast this common law, which has seven-hundred years of sophistication at protecting both, and you realise how far from ideal NZ’s so-called “environmental legislation” really is.

With strong property rights under common law, for example, the tourism operators along the Puarenga River—and the former fishermen at the head of the Tarawera River; and the aquaculture operators in Akaroa Harbour—would all have had legal standing to take action against polluters damaging their property right.

Historically and in principle that’s the best protection the environment ever had – both for the natural environment and for the human environment. Property rights in streams and rivers for example coupled with common law systems of protection would at a stroke solve the ‘dirty dairying’ problem about which so much is said, but so little achieved. Property rights in flora and fauna and land is the best means of ensuring a genuinely sustainable nation.

So how do we do that? Here’s two ways:

1. Putting Property Rights in the Bill of Rights Act

We know that common law protection of property rights has been buried by statute and regulation and the Foreshore and Seabed Act and its replacement--but it’s not too late to resurrect it. Placing property rights in the Bill of Rights Act would be a start—a politically possible start—repairing an omission that Bill of Rights architect Geoffrey Palmer has publicly conceded was a mistake, and that National's disgraceful about-turn three years ago overturned.

It should be simple enough to insert a new clause in the Bill of Rights adding property rights to the rights protected.  (But a responsible ‘Party X’  would know they would need to add pressure to make the Bill of Rights  superior to all other law, as it always should have been.)

After all, the principle of property rights simply promises the protection of the right to peacefully enjoy that in which one has property. What reasonable objection can be brought to a law that protects an individual’s right to peaceful enjoyment? (Let me stress the word "reasonable.")

Let’s place on the back foot those who object to that right by challenging them to say for what reasons the right to peaceful enjoyment should not be made superior to all other law. Why should that right not  be put beyond the vote? That is, beyond the power of politicians to tamper with.

Our putative ‘Party X’  may not be immediately successful in this goal, but it could at least flush out the bastards who oppose such peaceful rights, and expose the reasons they do.

In the meantime, you might like to consider what would happen if property rights ever actually were placed at the heart of the likes of the Resource Management Act . . . would it be something like the meeting of matter and anti-matter ?

2. Coming to the Nuisance

Planners like nothing more than than telling you where and how you may live.  The RMA gives them that power in spades, and the country is infested with the well-fed bastards writing and administering District Plans empowered by the RMA to boss you and your family around.

It wasn’t always that way. Back when common law was being invented, the English king was becoming increasingly frustrated at having to fix issues about the damage that someone’s chickens did to someone else’s crops.  Keen to stop his castles being overrun by defendants’ chickens, the king quickly realised the three important questions that could quickly solve these issues:

  1. Whose chickens (and whose crops) are they?
  2. What damage did they do? (And how to remedy it?)
  3. Who was there first?

Such was the birth of common law—and right there in those three questions the English king had hit on the three ingredients that have been at the heart of common law ever since:

  1. Property rights.
  2. Damage.
  3. Nuisance (and who came to it?).

Once these principles were established, the English king was able to solve these problems rapidly, to cleanse his castles of chickens, and to head north to invade Scotland—which is what the king known as “The Hammer of the Scots”  he’d been trying to do when he got bogged down in these disputes.

What I’m going to propose here is another simple modification to law that would allow New Zealanders to once again repair to the common law protections that “The Hammer” had made possible. In particular, the codification of the common law principle of Coming to the Nuisance (seen in palimpsest in point three above), which on its own would a powerful antidote to the zoning that the RMA has entrenched -- perhaps the strongest possible antidote to zoning there is. Supplementary to putting property rights in the Bill of Rights, then, ‘Party X’ could promote the reintroduction of the Coming to the Nuisance doctrine for use as an absolute in neighbourhood disputes.

The Coming to the Nuisance Doctrine is an enormously powerful principle protecting pre-existing rights, and quickly establishing rights in situations of apparent neighbourhood conflict. Move next door to a clean and well-run chicken farm or pig or mushroom farm for example (even if the place has been re-zoned since the farm opened), and under this doctrine you have no right to have them thrown out.

Move next door to a speedway track, for another well-known example, and you have no right to complain about excessive noise.

I assume you see the difference with how things presently work. If the farm or the speedway or whatever it is was there before you chose to buy next door, then that’s probably why you got your land so cheap.

And if the track (or farm) is well and properly run, then those pre-existing rights should and can be protected in law; and if they were you then have a strong incentive to either make a more careful choice in future (whereas now the incentive is there to move in and force them out), or to buy out the speedway or the farm, or buy easements or covenants over the neighbouring land.

Either way, when the coercion is removed from all parties and bargaining is all that’s allowed, the tendency is for property to end up in its highest value use. This is not something planners can ever claim to have achieved.

Furthermore, what this principle will demonstrate over long use is that zoning is not only coercive, but unnecessary. It will on its own provide a daily demonstration that sound property rights work for everybody except the grey ones and the looters.

Coming To The Nuisance then is THE pre-eminent antidote to zoning.

Not only that, at the same time as undercutting the zoning law established under the RMA, if  introduced it would ensure that if neighbours of Western Springs speedway aren’t prepared to stump up enough for the bikes and midget cars to go elsewhere, then the noise of fast cars and motorbikes will continue to annoy wankers like Peter Williams QC for some years to come. You can’t do better than that.

[Tune in tomorrow for policy proposal number three: Small Consents Tribunals.]

* * * * *

THE SERIES SO FAR:
INTRO: 'What Would 'Party X' Do About the Environment?'
PART ONE:
Un-taxes
THE SERIES IS BASED ON THE PRINCIPLE DEVELOPED HERE: 'Transitions to Freedom: Shall We Kill Them in Their Beds?'

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