Highway construction projects connecting the new businesses, malls and housing that fueled North Carolina's growing economy were screeching to dead ends when they unsuccessfully navigated wetland-protection regulations. Meanwhile, wetlands continued disappearing despite tough regulations designed to protect them.
As these clashes between protecting the environment and promoting the economy accelerate across the nation, solutions embracing the competing priorities have been difficult to concoct. In North Carolina, this impasse pushed environmentalists, government officials and developers to devise a completely new approach.
North Carolina unleashed this approach, named the Ecosystem Enhancement Program (EEP), in July 2003. Hailed as a model for public-private partnerships, the program has sparked enormous enthusiasm, cut costs and won national awards.
One of the main innovations, it seems, is that mitigation has moved from a case-by-case approach to a more liquid approach. The demand for mitigation is forecast based on planned highway construction projects and economies of scale in mitigation (i.e., lower average cost per acre as more acres are mitigated) has lowered mitigation costs.
Here is a 12 month old example of what's happening (WNC Property Preserved For Preservation, Restoration):
More than 2,600 acres in Buncombe and Madison counties will be permanently protected from development through a public-private partnership comprised of two conservation trusts, area residents and the state of North Carolina.
The N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program contributed $9.2 million to purchase the tract, known as Sandymush, in late December from Progress Energy Carolinas Inc. EEP collaborated with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and conservation philanthropists Fred and Alice Stanback, who donated $1 million to SAHC for the purchase.
The property is less than 20 miles from downtown Asheville in Leicester Township, where population increased by 37 percent from 1990 to 2000, significantly higher than the statewide rate of 21 percent. The tract, located west of the French Broad River at the Madison-Buncombe County line, “is a very large piece of land near a rapidly developing area,” said SAHC Lands Program Director David Ray. “We're preserving and restoring the creeks that flow through the property and immediately into the French Broad River.”
Another example of free market environmentalism?
Here is some background reading: Past, Present, and Future of Wetland Credit Sales, Shabman and Scodari, RFF Discussion Paper 04-48.
*An env-econ reader told me about this awhile back. Alas, I've lost the email and the ability to hat tip a name.