Policies designed to provide a collective good, such as the maintenance of the natural environment, impose sanctions on those negative external effects linked with individual productive and consumer-related activities which endanger it. While all stand to win from a cleaner environment, the distribution of costs and benefits linked with the provision of the necessary measures is uneven. And it is these interventions, with their distributive effects, which give rise to specific conflicts.
Cleavages and the accommodation of diversity
The interest constellation which evolves from the anticipated costs and benefits of environmental policy is often redistributive and therefore conflictual. Thus, combating industrial pollution implies widely distributed – but relatively small – incremental benefits for the public, and concentrated – but relatively high – ‘lumpy’ costs for industry (Wilson 1980). That is, the beneficiaries of regulatory policy constitute an inclusive group, not easily organised unless a public entrepreneur takes up their cause, whilst the opponents of such measures – the polluters – are, by contrast, an exclusive group, powerful in terms of resources and small in number, and hence better suited to political organisation (Olson 1980).
When it comes to the European regulation of environmental problems we are primarily dealing with those problems of global and border-crossing pollution that cannot be resolved adequately by individual member states. On the one hand, states have a common interest in providing a collective good and in protecting the environment.