Environmental Efftects: Making Developers Pay for the Environmental Damage They Cause

Learn how Robert W. Ramsey and his colleagues were able to estimate a price that developers should pay for the destruction they inflict on the environment.

| May/June 1971


When developers clear large areas of land for the expansion of commerce, the environment and wildlife of that land is destroyed in the process.


One day in 1969 some friends, my partners, and I were discussing the loss of a beautiful oak and fir hillside overlooking a swamp. It was being developed by builders who called themselves "The Preservationists"! Another developer, with us at the time, objected. "Listen, if you'd wanted to save that land, why didn't you buy it, instead of expecting the owner to give it away?"

We had no answer at the moment, but since that time it has begun to come clear. We have watched development, been a party to development, and reached conclusions. When developers "finish" a site it is truly finished as far as its original assets are concerned. All have been destroyed, or lost their meaning.

Gradually we became convinced that all land has "destruction value." This can be accurately measured on an economic scale, just as the "location value" of land is traditionally appraised, taxed, and used as a basis for trade.

Every square foot of original natural topography, every cubic foot of soil, every spring, creek, pond, swamp or drainway, every bird and animal, every tree and shrub has value that can be measured.

If the developer eliminates these things by "improving" through clearing, excavating, filling, dredging, refilling, regrading, covering with buildings and pavement, then he should pay to a public body of jurisdiction a destruction penalty equal to the appraised ecological loss incurred. 

Such funds would then be used only to administer programs for land acquisition, protection, and the development, management and maintenance of greenbelts, parklands, wetlands, shorelands, future living reserves, etc.

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