Stockholm Conference on Environmental
Law and Justice,  6-9 September 2006

Hans Christian Bugge (Oslo University, Norway):
Environmental Justice and the Polluter Pays Principle

This paper provides an analysis of how the Polluter Pays Principle works in an equity and justice perspective. Pollution control policy and law raise complex issues of justice and fairness. Generally, it decides which level of pollution is legal, and thus the environmental risk and welfare reduction to be accepted by various affected parties. Pollution control policy and law also determine the burden allocated to  the responsible actors in order to limit the pollution. Finally, it decides how the economic burdens of pollution and pollution prevention are distributed between the polluter, the affected public and holders of land use rights (“the victims”), the taxpayers, future generations and nature itself – just to mention the most evident issues of corrective and distributive justice inherent in pollution policy and law. Often, there are several sources of pollution, or a chain of activities leading to pollution. This raises issues of just distribution of duties between the contributors as regards both preventive measures and possible liability for damage.

The Polluter Pays Principle plays an important role in pollution policy and law. It is commonly regarded as a principle of economic efficiency, by requiring that environmental damage is internalized into the polluter’s production costs, and generally prohibiting state subsidies to finance pollution control measures. However, as follows from the Coase theorem and the principle of “lowest cost avoider”, it does not necessary lead to efficiency. At the same time, the Polluter Pays Principle plays in fact an important distributive role and should also be judged as a principle for just distribution of pollution and pollution control burdens.

This paper will take a close look at the Polluter Pays Principle from this perspective, with its conditions, possible shortcomings and exemptions. It will include both the polluter/victim relationship, and situations of several pollution sources.




 Ansvarig utgivare är SMC | Copyright 2006