Currencies and the Commodification of Environmental Law
Ruhl, J. B.
The success of several environmental trading markets (ETMs) has led to proposals for broader use of ETMs in environmental and resource management policy. The successful ETMs all share a basic feature-they exchange units of trade that are fungible, such as tons of sulfur dioxide or kilos of fish. This feature of trading promotes resource allocation efficiency while advancing environmental protection. But most commodities exchanged in current and proposed ETMs, such as wetlands and endangered species habitat, exhibit nonfungibilities across the dimensions of type, time, and space. Using ETMs to trade these commodities is no longer trading "environmental apples for apples," and thus the rationale for using ETMs is called into question. In this article, the authors develop a comprehensive analytical framework for evaluating ETMs from the perspective of commodity nonfungibility and explore the challenge presented by trading environmental apples for oranges. They argue that by focusing on nonfungible commodities and their currencies we can better explain the design of ETMs, their rules of exchange, and provisions for public participation.