Environmental mitigation, compensatory mitigation, or mitigation banking, are terms used primarily by the United States government and the related environmental industry to describe projects or programs intended to offset known impacts to an existing historic or natural resource such as a stream, wetland, endangered species, archeological site or historic structure. To "mitigate" means to make less harsh or hostile. Environmental mitigation is typically a part of an environmental crediting system established by governing bodies which involves allocating debits and credits. Debits occur in situations where a natural resource has been destroyed or severely impaired and credits are given in situations where a natural resource has been deemed to be improved or preserved. Therefore, when an entity such as a business or individual has a "debit" they are required to purchase a "credit". In some cases credits are bought from "mitigation banks" which are large mitigation projects established to provide credit to multiple parties in advance of development when such compensation cannot be achieved at the development site or is not seen as beneficial to the environment. Crediting systems can allow credit to be generated in different ways. For example in the United States, projects are valued based on what the intentions of the project are which may be to restore, create, enhance, or preserve a natural resource.
- 1 Advantages
- 2 Disadvantages
- 3 Notes
- 4 External links
Environmental mitigation and crediting systems are often praised for the following reasons:
Mitigation is a more development-friendly alternative to strict environmental laws because it allows development to occur where environmental laws might prohibit it.
Mitigation inevitably creates a "mitigation industry". By requiring those who impact natural resources to purchase credits, a demand for mitigation credit is formed. Businesses related to environmental work typically benefit from such a system.
Targeting ecological value
Assuming regulation assures that credit adequately reflects ecological value, mitigation has the potential to save and restore the most valuable environmental resources at the least cost. This is because buyers are typically looking for mitigation credits that are both cheap and the most likely to meet regulatory requirements for creation of credit.
Mitigation systems place the environmental costs of development mostly on the individuals or entities that are impacting the environment. Without environmental mitigation, costs of alleviating environmental damage caused by development could be placed in the hands of the government which would in turn pass costs on to taxpayers not responsible for environmental impacts.
Benefit to landowners
Land previously unused or impractical for development is given greater monetary value under a mitigation system. For instance, land in floodplains may be impractical for commercial or residential development but conductive for mitigation activities. Land in rural areas with very little potential for growth are more valuable when given the opportunity to be used for mitigation credits.
The following are criticisms of environmental mitigation and crediting systems:
Incorrect allocation and valuation of credits and debits
Mitigation regulations may not properly take into account the total ecological losses and gains associated with environmental impacts or mitigation when allocating debts and credits. Governing bodies are primarily responsible for prescribing the ecological criteria required to attain credits for mitigation. They are also responsible for valuation of credit. Problems with the allocation and valuation of credits and debts might be due to the complexity of assessing the ecological value of natural resources, their capacity to change over time, and/or a lack of understanding about what is beneficial or harmful to the environment.
Effects on land cost and availability
Some mitigation work requires buying large amounts of land or putting it in conservation easements. Because of this, mitigation could be seen as contributing to increasing the cost of land. Mitigation can be in direct competition with other rural land uses such as agriculture and residential development.
Problems with pre-existing credit
Because mitigation credit can be applied to existing natural resources, landowners can be given credit to sell for resources that already exist and would have been preserved or naturally restored regardless of mitigation laws.
Undermining preservation efforts
Despite its goals of minimizing ecological loss, mitigation can be seen as a "loophole" that allows environmental destruction to continue. The lower the cost of credits are, the more cost effective it becomes for buyers to simply mitigate for environmental impacts rather than preserving them. Because ecological success of mitigation work is not guaranteed, there is a greater risk of net environmental loss through failed, ineffective mitigation work intended to compensate for existing functioning natural resources.
Mitigation can also undermine existing preservation efforts. If an environmental asset is set aside for mitigation purposes, that asset can continue to be damaged until a project arises that requires mitigation. At that point, the asset in question may be damaged beyond repair or the cost of mitigation may increase. Even if no further damage has been done, a net loss to society has occurred if the cost of mitigation is higher than if volunteers completed the work.
- New "recovery crediting system" could undermine federal actions to safeguard imperiled species, Lazaroff, C., Defenders of Wildlife, 08-01-08.
- United States EPA Compensatory Mitigation website
- National Mitigation Banking Association
- Endangered Species and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Recovery Crediting Guidance