Radical restructuring of control over natural resources in the United States was advocated in a report, released yesterday by a private study group.
The Exploratory Project for Economic Alternatives recommended that private and public owners of resources become "public trustees" with legal responsiblity to manage them in the interests of the "beneficiaries," the American people.
The 137-page study, titled "Public Trusts: A New Approach to Environmental Protection," is the second of a dozen reports intended to stimulate debate on new economic approaches. It is called "a working paper" and does not represent the project's final conclusions.
The study cites this example of how the new system would work:
"If, for instance, oil and other energy companies were designated as public trustees of the energy resources they owned, a more extensive public debate than has ever occurred in this country would have to begin in order to define what constitutes responsible management of energy supplies. The results of the debate would ultimately be established as the legal responsibilites of the energy companies."
Rick Applegate, author of the study, said, "Today, the public is kept in the dark about the extent of energy and mineral supplies while the government struggles to develop optimum extraction rates and pricing policy.
"Under the public trust approach, citizens, as legally defined beneficiaries, would have the legal right to demand full disclosure of facts by corportions controlling natural resources and to demand that long-range policies serve citizen interests."
There is no detailed analysis of the legal details of the trust arrangement, nor is much attention paid to the formidable political obstacles confronting a proposed system that would go far beyond current regulation and undoubtedly cost corporations billions of dollars in lost profits.
But the role of the Exploratory Project for Economic Alternatives, a foundation-supported think tank that is headed by economists Gar Alperovitz and Jeff Faux, according to the group's literature, "is to develop economic alternatives which move us away from a future dominated by the valves of giant corporate and bureaucratic institutions."