The Impact of Ethics on Influencing Environmental Policy Change

The (CPUC) California Public Utilities Commission recently permitted a balanced net metering program in California (Environment California Research and Policy Center 2016). This will allow solar energy consumers to sell the extra energy they generate back to the grid. According to a statement released by the Environment California Research and Policy Center “a diverse coalition of consumer, environmental, faith, agricultural, environmental justice, and business organizations joined together to applaud” this decision. It can be inferred that the introduction of the program was successful since there was little to no backlash from the public. It can also be inferred that permitting a net metering program is in line with the values of people across a variety of backgrounds. This paper will use Carolyn Merchant’s framework to explore the values of different people and how the net metering program is in accord with those values.

Adam Kotin, associate policy director of California Climate and Agriculture Network, highlighted how the program helps individual farmers. He mentioned that the program “gives farmers a practical way to lower their carbon footprint by maximizing the on-farm renewable energy they produce” (Environment California Research and Policy Center 2016). Kotin’s comments suggest he has an egocentric value system. Often associated with laissez faire capitalism, egocentric ethics is usually adopted by “private entrepreneurs and corporations whose primary goal is the maximization of profit from the development of natural resources” (Merchant 1992). Kotin did mention “agriculture’s important role in providing solutions to climate change” which may seem unselfish and therefore not egocentric. Merchant distinguishes the egocentric ethic from selfishness by underlining how it “involves the claim that what is good for the individual will benefit society” (Merchant 1992). Kotin, and people who have similar values to him, will approve the decision made by the CPUC because it benefits individuals in the community which will ultimately lead to benefiting the community as a whole.

Eddie Ahn, the executive director of Brightline Defense, hailed solar energy as “an essential asset for disadvantaged communities facing fossil fuel pollution” (Environment California Research and Policy Center 2016). Homocentric ethics emphasizes on “the approach of environmental regulatory agencies that protect human health” (Merchant 1992). Although he is interested in creating sustainable environments Ahn’s praise for the net metering program lies in how it “empowers our communities with jobs” (Environment California Research and Policy Center 2016). Typically homocentric ethics can be viewed as detrimental to the environment. This is because under some circumstances in order to maximize utility for the greatest number of people it is necessary to take advantage of the available natural resources. In this case, however, switching energy sources from fossil fuels to solar will result in less pollution in the community and consequently better standards of living for those within it. Ahn and those that have values similar to him will applaud the conclusion the commission arrived at because it is advantageous to the humans living in that community.

The net metering program in California faces little to no backlash because it appeals to a range of different values that people hold. Policy changes that require community involvement can only be effective when the change is one that a majority of the public can appreciate. Public appreciation for changes increases when the changes are in line with their personal values.  The net metering program is an example of a policy change that will benefit the community as involvement increases. Adam Kotin and Eddie Ahn belong to two different organizations with different priorities. In the end, by satisfying different organizations’ priorities, the conclusion the CPUC arrived at was well received by the public. This demonstrates how effective policy changes, especially environmental policy changes, require policy makers to appeal to the different values that people hold.



Environment California Research & Policy Center,. 2016. Consumer, Faith, Environmental & Business Leaders Applaud Commitment To Continued Solar Progress. (4 February 2016)

Merchant, Carolyn. 1992. “Environmental Ethics and Political Conflict” in Radical Ecology, 63-81

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