Theorizing command-and-commodify regulation: the case of species conservation banking in the United States

Abstract

State-directed but market-oriented forms of regulation, especially environmental examples like cap-and-trade and ecological offsetting, have proliferated in the past two decades, but sociologists have been slow to theorize these broad institutional shifts. This article offers a framework for explaining these processes of regulatory marketization. First, I argue that institutions of this sort are examples of what I call command-and-commodify regulation, a mode of regulation that distinctively hybridizes economic and authoritative dimensions of power. Second, I explain how and why one example of command-and-commodify regulation, species conservation banking, emerged and remained concentrated in California, but did not so easily develop in other American states. Finally, abstracting from the case, I argue that the concept of market reconstruction is useful for developing a more general theory of the ways that social conflicts and mobilization reconfigure regulatory power and thus give rise to new modes of regulation. Together, a theory of command-and-commodify regulation and market reconstruction may be useful for explaining the development of a wide variety of environmentally focused and other regulatory institutions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For a brief exposition of habitat offsetting, see Robertson (2004) (for wetlands) or Carroll et al. (2009) (for endangered species). For a brief overview of cap-and-trade systems, see MacKenzie (2009), or for more details, see Tietenburg (2006).

  2. 2.

    Levin and Espeland (2002), Engels (2006), Schneiberg and Bartley (2008), MacKenzie (2009), and Spaargaren and Mol (2013) are among the few sociologists who take these market-oriented forms of regulation as direct objects of analysis. Tellingly, with the exception of a discussion of tradable quotas used in fisheries, a recent review of sociological scholarship on “The Political Economy of the Environment” (Rudel et al. 2011) does not mention any form of state-directed but market-oriented environmental regulation.

  3. 3.

    Table 2 catalogs my informants by organizational affiliation and geographic region of expertise.

  4. 4.

    See “Madera Pools Restoration and Mitigation Site,” California Department of Transportation (2011) and Lamb (2007).

  5. 5.

    See Collier County Board of County Commissioners meeting, May 24, 2011, agenda item 10.C. Video archive available at http://www.colliergov.net/index.aspx?page=2280

  6. 6.

    County-level data on land-use change or economic output in construction, which drives demand for ecological mitigation, is not widely available. At the state level, economic output in the construction industry is robustly correlated with foregoing increases in population, suggesting that county-level population growth is a strong proxy for land development also at that scale. See Table 3 in the Appendix.

  7. 7.

    Alaska was excluded because of inconsistencies in population data.

  8. 8.

    To reiterate, like Weber, I do not claim that the dimensions I identify are the only dimensions that power can be exercised along—just that they are two dimensions that are useful for distinguishing between different modes of structuring economic action.

  9. 9.

    Skeptics of the distinction between authoritative and economic power will argue that these two forms of power are not so different, insomuch as compliance with an authoritative command may be conditioned on an assessment of the costs and benefits of compliance, just as making a “free choice” in a market is conditioned by the structural context that the decision is made within—that is, by considering the costs and benefits of taking one action rather than another (see, e.g., Hale 1935). This is true, but exactly misses the point of Weber’s analytical distinction: that similar ends—economic action of a particular sort—can be achieved by qualitatively different means, that is, by using different modes of domination. One can ask, for example, how and to what extent collapsing the coercion experienced by the serf into the same category as the coercion experienced by the wage laborer offers insight for understanding the distinctive economic institutions that each are embedded within.

  10. 10.

    Two notes are important here. First, mitigation is only formally allowed after (and never instead of) taking steps first to avoid and then to minimize ecological harm, although distinctions within this hierarchy are clearly subjective (Andrus 1981). Second, “mitigation” or “compensatory mitigation” are the terms used in American environmental policy for the more general concept of “offsetting” as already defined in this article. Readers should thus understand the terms “mitigation” and “offset” as synonymous in this article.

  11. 11.

    In brief, Section 10 obtains when any non-federal entity (e.g., a private citizen or state government) seeks project approval. Section 7 obtains when a project involves a “federal nexus” (e.g., another federal agency or federal funding). Three things make Section 7 consultations considerably more likely than Section 10 consultations: 1) Compliance with Section 10 is comparatively easy to avoid. In the absence of compulsion to consult with the Services, a private land developer may elect to “shoot, shovel, and shut-up” (Salzman 2005, p. 916) rather than obey the law. 2) Developing a habitat conservation plan under Section 10 is generally arduous, creating incentives to return to (1) above, or to consult under Section 7, if possible. 3) A federal nexus is actually quite common. For example, all projects that have an mpact on “waters of the United States,” must obtain a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers to comply with the Clean Water Act. This creates a federal nexus.

  12. 12.

    “Take” is the legal term used in the Endangered Species Act to designate what in colloquial terms would be harm or a disturbance to a protected species and its habitat.

  13. 13.

    See for example Association of Irritated Residents v. County of Madera (2003) 107 Cal.App.4th 1383.

  14. 14.

    This may soon change. During the course of the publication of this article, on December 27, 2016, after more than two decades of legal ambiguity, the US Fish and Wildlife Service published a new regulatory rule allowing compensatory mitigation under section 7 of the Endagered Species Act. See https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/27/2016-30929/endangered-and-threatened-wildlife-andplants-endangered-species-act-compensatory-mitigation-policy.

  15. 15.

    See Florida statues section 125.022, available at http://leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm.

  16. 16.

    N = 289 unique cases. However, several cases were coded in multiple states when conflicts spanned borders (e.g., litigation over salmon runs in border rivers), yielding 313 state-based cases. Terms were chosen to focus specifically on federal law because it applies to all states and, because suits often focus on the official biological opinions that Service regulators write, including provisions (or the lack thereof) for mitigation. Outcome categories were in favor of: NGOs: regulators, industry, state, city, landowner, tribes, and military. Search includes all federal district and appellate as well as state appellate cases.

  17. 17.

    For a nice summary of this debate see White et al. (2016), especially chapter 5.

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Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Thomas Angeletti, Tim Bartley, Jens Beckert, Fred Block, Winston Chou, Guus Dix, Rebecca Emigh, Jenny Goldstein, Neil Gong, Hannah Landecker, Ching Kwan Lee, Yewon Lee, Michael Mann, Bill Roy, Ksenia Varlyguina, Ed Walker, the Theory and Society Editors and reviewers, and the participants of the UCLA Comparative Social Analysis seminar for many helpful comments and ideas that contributed to this article. Anonymous reviewers in a previous review process were also very helpful. The research presented in this article was developed in part under GRO Fellowship Assistance Agreement no. F13A10071 awarded by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It has not been formally reviewed by EPA. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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Appendix

Appendix

Table 2 Informant counts by organizational affiliation and geography
Table 3 Fixed effects linear panel regression testing association with gross state product per capita in the construction industry, 1990-2012
Table 4 Mean state-year species listing expected values (SLEVs), 1990–2012

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Rea, C.M. Theorizing command-and-commodify regulation: the case of species conservation banking in the United States. Theor Soc 46, 21–56 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11186-017-9283-5

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Keywords

  • Commodification
  • Endangered species
  • Environment
  • Institutional emergence
  • Markets
  • Regulation