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Environment Probe is a division of the Energy Probe Research Foundation, a Toronto-based environmental and public policy research institute.

The organization works to expose government policies that harm not only Canada's forests, fisheries, waterways, and other natural resources but also the economy. It is committed to developing and promoting alternative resource policies that are environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable.

Launched in 1989, Environment Probe first focussed on the opportunities in the Free Trade Agreement to improve environmental standards. It has since shifted its attention to putting other market mechanisms to work for the environment. Central to its work is the promotion of property rights and decentralized decision making to empower individuals and communities to protect natural resources. It is also a sharp critic of subsidies to resource industries.

Where markets cannot be relied on to protect the environment and public health – where property rights cannot be assigned or enforced, or where natural monopolies exist – Environment Probe advocates the strict enforcement of statutes and regulations. The organization works for regulatory processes that internalize risks and costs, enhance efficiency, and promote accountability and transparency.

Environment Probe works both to inform public opinion and to influence decision makers. It has written three books, contributed chapters to 13 others, and authored numerous studies. It regularly writes for the national press and frequently appears on radio and television. It addresses conferences, seminars, and university classes in Canada and abroad. It also influences public policy through its participation in environmental assessments, public inquiries, and regulatory consultations.


  • As farms increase in size and intensity, agricultural pollution is gaining a new urgency across Canada. The response from most environmental groups and from upper levels of government is generally to push for more centralized regulation. The effect has often been to disempower directly affected individuals and communities – with the perverse result of more rather than less agricultural pollution. In Greener Pastures: Decentralizing the Regulation of Agricultural Pollution (published in May 2007 by the University of Toronto's Centre for Public Management), Environment Probe examines the environmental harm caused by provincial regulation – especially right-to-farm laws – and advocates returning decision-making authority to the local level.

  • Municipal water and wastewater systems are failing Canadians. To ensure safe drinking water and effective sewage treatment, Environment Probe is calling for stricter government regulation (both environmental and economic) and for greater private funding and operation of utilities. The organization has promoted the privatization and regulation of water utilities in a number of forums, including the Walkerton Inquiry, which funded an extensive study of the issue. The Panel on the Future Role of Government in Ontario also commissioned a paper on the issue from the organization. Environment Probe's book, Liquid Assets: Privatizing and Regulating Canada's Water Utilities (published by the University of Toronto's Centre for Public Management), was short-listed for the 2002/2003 Donner Prize, an award for the best public policy book in Canada.

  • In some regions of Canada, water is becoming increasingly scarce. And across the country, water and wastewater systems are undersized and in need of repair. Because Canadians pay so little for water, they have few incentives to conserve, and utilities have insufficient funds to improve their infrastructure. Environment Probe is campaigning to promote full-cost pricing to protect public health and the environment.

  • Constructed wetlands provide a simple, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly method of purifying stormwater and contaminated water from households, small communities, farms, landfills, and mines. They also provide food and habitat for wildlife and create pleasant landscapes. Environment Probe is working to promote the use of constructed wetlands.

  • Elizabeth Brubaker, Environment Probe's executive director, has been appointed to the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. The Round Table is an independent federal agency that provides advice to government and the public on the integration of environmental conservation and economic development. It commissions research and produces publications on a variety of sustainable development issues. Current projects focus on climate change and clean air.


  • Citizens have long used their property rights to protect their environment against corporate and government polluters. The government's response: to disempower the populace by authorizing pollution that property rights would have prevented, and to even pass laws overriding court decisions against polluters – all on the grounds that a greater, so-called national interest required the polluting activities. With the publication of Greener Pastures (see above) and Property Rights in the Defence of Nature (published by Earthscan in 1995), and with chapters about property rights in 13 other books, Environment Probe has worked tirelessly to restore property rights, so that every Canadian will become empowered with means to protect the environment.

  • Short-sighted governments have razed Canada's forests and depleted her fisheries, demonstrating that they cannot be trusted as custodians of precious resources. Environment Probe's surveys of countries that are protecting their natural resources have found that decentralized holdings – whether community based or privately held – generally serve the environment and the economy well. Environment Probe's campaigns to decentralize natural resource holdings have garnered praise from divers interests, from native forestry activists to Australian fishermen.

  • Every two years, Environment Probe helps organize an international conference linking property rights, economics, and the environment. The conference brings together activists, scholars, and governments to explore the role of property rights and economic instruments in protecting land, water, marine life, and other resources. The 2006 conference, held in France, focused on land use issues, including the use of easements and land trusts to preserve environmentally sensitive lands and the importance of compensation for regulatory takings.

  • Until recently, university economics courses ignored the environment. Now, students at over 500 educational institutions across North America learn about the relationship between the two through several leading university texts that use Environment Probe's findings to illustrate economic principles.

  • In May 2000, contaminated water killed seven people and sickened 2,300 in Walkerton, Ontario. Environment Probe, under the banner of the Energy Probe Research Foundation, participated extensively in the public inquiry established to examine the causes of the tragedy and, more generally, the safety of drinking water in Ontario. Over the course of the two-year inquiry, the organization cross-examined witnesses, participated in expert meetings, and made submissions on environmental and economic regulation, enforcement, source protection, agricultural pollution, incentive structures, accountability mechanisms, and the privatization and financing of water utilities.

  • Many of the worst drinking water systems in Canada are found on native reserves. In 2006, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development commissioned a study from Environment Probe on the governance of water systems. In its review of emerging best practices and in its subsequent work, Environment Probe has stressed the importance of legally binding standards, expert operators, sustainable financing, and meaningful accountability mechanisms.

  • In 2003, Canada's Species at Risk Act went into effect. Over the course of the preceding years, and several failed attempts to enact endangered species legislation, the debate shifted to reflect many of Environment Probe's concerns, with virtually all stake-holders moving towards an approach to species conservation that gives landowners incentives to preserve habitat and compensates them, albeit only partially, for losses incurred in doing so.


  • A year-long study of Ontario's wilderness areas by Environment Probe found that Ontario's provincial parks are worth at least $6 billion. On a per hectare basis, provincial parks generate eight times more revenue than that of timber harvesting on crown land, yet the government continues to hand over public land to industry for environmentally destructive resource extraction.

  • The US Non-Ferrous Minerals Mining Industry decided to intervene in the Free Trade Agreement subsidy definition discussions after Environment Probe explained that their Canadian counterparts were operating under laxer environmental standards, and that stricter environmental standards in Canada would be in their economic interest.

  • An Environment Probe study found that logging in the Carmanah Creek watershed, a unique and beautiful wilderness area on Canada's west coast, had been planned without any consideration of the economic benefit from logging, which is, in fact, very low. Non-timber benefits are likely to exceed the benefits from logging this pristine area.


Environment Probe is financially independent of governments, corporations, and unions. The bulk of its funds comes in the form of tax-creditable donations from the general public. The organization has received grants from several charitable foundations, including the Helen McCrea Peacock Foundation, the Donner Canadian Foundation, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, and the Margaret Laurence Fund. It also earns income from publications sales and fees for articles, papers, and speaking engagements.


The following principles have evolved from Energy Probe Research Foundation's (EPRF's) 20-year-long analysis of the root causes of environmental destruction and of the elements of a sustainable society.

  • EPRF works for environmental sustainability by promoting property rights (private or communal), markets, the rule of law, the right to know, accountability through liability, cost and risk internalization, economic efficiency, competition, consumer choice, and an informed public.

  • EPRF strives to eliminate tragedies of the commons1 by advocating property rights where resources can be exclusive, divisible, and alienable. In these situations, EPRF believes resources are most sustainably managed by the users of the resources themselves. EPRF advocates property rights:
    • to establish and preserve rights and responsibilities;
    • to account fully for social and environmental costs based on the values assigned by the rights holders; and
    • to internalize risks and costs (and to eliminate moral hazards2) in decision making.

  • EPRF favours court actions based on the common law of nuisance, trespass, and riparian rights to empower individuals to protect themselves from environmental harm. It does not believe that governments should have the discretion to negotiate with polluters, or with other parties, to override traditional common law protections.

  • EPRF generally opposes expropriation, which often results in environmental harm. It believes that voluntary agreements more fully internalize costs, protect the environment, and ensure economic efficiency.

  • EPRF argues for the break up of unnatural monopolies, created by political or regulatory decree. Where natural monopolies exist, EPRF advocates regulation that is mandated to protect the interests of consumers.

  • Where property rights cannot easily or affordably be assigned or enforced, EPRF strives to eliminate tragic commons through statutory law and regulation. Although rigorous regulation is often required, regulatory authority must seek to avoid creating barriers to entry, stifling innovation, interrupting the flow of information, and forcing regulated parties to act against their best judgement.

  • EPRF works to ensure the integrity of regulatory systems and the strict enforcement of laws that penalize unauthorized pollution. To eliminate biases and conflicts of interest, and to ensure that public and private sector polluters are treated equally, EPRF advocates independent regulators, who are subject to due process and judicial review, and regulatory processes that require full disclosure of information.

  • EPRF works to establish decentralized decision-making processes and to devolve decision making to the lowest practicable level—that which is closest to the individual.

  • EPRF opposes subsidies to resource use. Where society favours subsidies to ensure social equity, EPRF favours subsidizing resource users with direct payments, untied to the level of consumption, rather than subsidies that lower the apparent cost of the resource.

  • EPRF opposes the socialization of private sector costs and risks through government subsidies and indemnities to the corporate sector. For example, while EPRF approves of private insurance as a way to internalize risks and costs, EPRF opposes government indemnities to resource or financial sectors, particularly if those indemnities protect risk takers and polluters from the risks and costs of their activities.

1 The tragedy of the commons, popularized by Garrett Hardin's essay in 1968, explains individuals' incentives to exploit common resources for personal gain and the exhaustion of the resources in the process. "Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in the commons brings ruin to all." (Return)

2 "Moral hazard" refers to people's increased incentives to take risks when insured. (Return)


Chair: Gail Regan - President, Cara Holdings Ltd.
Patricia Adams - President, Energy Probe Research Foundation
Max Allen - Producer, IDEAS, CBC Radio
Andrew Coyne - National Affairs Columnist, National Post
Glenn Fox - Professor of Economics, University of Guelph
Ian Gray - President, St. Lawrence Starch Co. Ltd.
Clifford Orwin - Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto
Andrew Roman - Barrister & Solicitor
Andrew Stark - Professor of Management and Political Science, University of Toronto
Annetta Turner - Secretary Treasurer, Energy Probe Research Foundation
Margaret Wente - Columnist, Globe and Mail

The Energy Probe Research Foundation's directors have demonstrated a long-term commitment to the foundation and to the environment. Three of the eleven current directors have been with the foundation since its inception in 1980, and two others have been with it for more than 10 years.


Elizabeth Brubaker

Elizabeth Brubaker
Elizabeth Brubaker
Click image for larger photo
photo: Richard Owens

Elizabeth Brubaker is Environment Probe's executive director.

Brubaker is the author of Greener Pastures: Decentralizing the Regulation of Agricultural Pollution, published by the University of Toronto's Centre for Public Management in May 2007. The book traces the evolution of laws permitting farms to create nuisances that harm their neighbours. It argues for a return to a rights-based regulatory regime in which individuals and communities are empowered to protect themselves from polluting farms.

Brubaker's book, Liquid Assets: Privatizing and Regulating Canada's Water Utilities, was published by the University of Toronto's Centre for Public Management in 2002. Brubaker has spoken and written extensively on water – including its pricing, allocation, regulation, and quality – during the last decade. She has also participated in a number of regulatory hearings regarding water, including the Demand-Supply Plan Hearing in the early 1990s (the environmental assessment of Ontario Hydro's nuclear and hydroelectric expansion plans) and the Walkerton Inquiry, for which she prepared a study on water utility privatization.

Brubaker is the author of Property Rights in the Defence of Nature (Earthscan 1995), a book investigating the extent to which the property rights regime developed under the English common law can serve as a force for environmental protection. She has also worked on the establishment of property rights in fisheries.

Brubaker has contributed chapters to 13 books published in five countries. She has written frequently in the popular press and has lectured in Canada, the United States, France, Australia, and China.

Vyacheslav Magmedov

Vyacheslav Magmedov

Dr. Vyacheslav G. Magmedov, a hydrogeologist, is working with Environment Probe to promote the use of constructed wetlands to treat contaminated water. Magmedov is a world-renowned authority on constructed wetlands. Since his groundbreaking 1986 thesis, "Water Quality Transformation in an Artificially Created Biogeocenosis," he has authored more than 40 articles, papers, and manuals devoted to the subject.

Magmedov has more than 20 years of experience as a researcher, consultant, and lecturer in Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Canada. He has addressed a variety of environmental issues, including nature conservation, groundwater pollution, sampling and monitoring, remediation, and solid waste management.


Elizabeth Brubaker, Executive Director
Environment Probe
225 Brunswick Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
M5S 2M6
Phone: (416) 964-9223 ext. 232
Fax: (416) 964-8239
E-mail: ElizabethBrubaker@nextcity.com

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