Don Wood, of the Pacific Energy Policy Center, has written some nice briefings on water [PDF] and growth [DOC]. The water brief calls for regulations that require new development have a "net zero" impact and/or meet certain efficiency standards. In the growth brief, Wood observes that politicians have an incentive to adopt pro-growth, pro-sprawl policies when they stand to gain campaign contributions from developers and increase their tax base. Politicians, e.g., support rezoning land from agricultural to residential, subsidies to road extensions, low-cost access to public utilities, etc.
I agree that these unsustainable incentives exist. Reversing them will require, first, that politicians/bureaucrats change their attitudes towards growth, sprawl and resource inefficiency; second, they will have to adopt policies that promote sustainable growth and development. Ignoring the first step (!), I suggest policies that are light on specific means and heavy on measurable ends, i.e., set goals and then let the market work.
My cap and develop proposal for sustainable development has these steps:
- Measure and cap water and energy demand (at annual usage) for all buildings.
- Issue permits to those buildings. Buildings without permits cannot be occupied.
- Require that new buildings purchase existing permits. Buildings that sell permits must be replaced (new building) or turned into parks with a net zero demand for water and power, i.e., if the new building is located elsewhere -- on virgin (greenfield) land.
- Permits can be traded in a market.
- Total use can be reduced by requiring that new buildings use <= 90% of the energy and water represented in the purchased permits.