Institutional Innovations in Environmental Regulation: The Rise of Market-Oriented Approaches to Wetland Conservation in the United States

EPA Grant Number: F13A10071
Title: Institutional Innovations in Environmental Regulation: The Rise of Market-Oriented Approaches to Wetland Conservation in the United States
Investigators: Rea, Christopher M
Institution: University of California - Los Angeles
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: September 20, 2014 through September 20, 2016
Project Amount: $84,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Sociology


This research is guided by three closely coupled research questions: (1) How and why do market-oriented institutions for protecting habitat, like wetland mitigation banking, emerge where they do; (2) how do these novel regulatory institutions work in social, political and ecological terms; (3) how well do these institutions work as social and ecological tools for protecting the environment?


This research focuses on species conservation banking and wetland mitigation banking in the United States, along with habitat pooling in Germany, to understand the sociopolitical, economic and ecological conditions that give rise to market-oriented approaches to conservation. Archival, ethnographic and quantitative data on habitat types, protected species, land use change, economic growth and development were collected, along with data on crucial but less obvious drivers of institutional innovation: environmental litigation, social movement activism, regulatory and administrative policy and practice, and tools and techniques for quantifying natural capital and ecosystem services. By exploiting regional variations in these elements and situating them in historical context, analysis teases out the processes that lead to the development of institutions like wetland mitigation banking and helps assess their social, political and ecological utility.

Expected Results:

Substantial preliminary research suggests that key drivers of the development of species conservation banking were creative efforts to more thoroughly regulate land development, heightened levels of litigation over environmental statutes and efforts of environmental regulators and ecological entrepreneurs to promote policy solutions consonant with market logics. Pure “demand,” on the other hand, in the form of high levels of development overlapping with high levels of sensitive habitat, does not seem to be enough to promote the formation of species conservation banks. It is likely that similar factors will figure prominently in explanations for the development and functioning of wetland mitigation banks in the United States.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

With the U.S. population expected to grow by roughly 100 million people in the next 50 years, land development pressures will continue to be a central threat to ecosystems that not only provide habitat to countless species, but also supply critical ecosystem services that human populations depend upon, such as water filtration, flood protection and carbon sequestration. Developing innovative and cost-effective solutions to these problems of conservation is of paramount importance. This research explicitly aims to understand how market-oriented regulatory institutions like wetland mitigation banking serve (or fail to serve) these purposes; how and why they should (or should not) be embraced as social, political and economic tools for conservation; and the ways such institutions can be improved and their growth encouraged where they provide robust social and ecological benefits.

Supplemental Keywords:

conservation, innovation, wetlands

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2015
  • Final