Econ S33 - Environmental Valuation: Economics and Ethics in Practice

Course Description
Course Trip
Overview of Issues


Lynne Lewis
Pettengill 261
Office Hours during short term: by appointment

Frank Chessa
7475 Campus Ave. #12
Office Hours during short term: by appointment


Course Description

This course will examine the history, politics, economics and ethics of large dams, using Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona and (to a lessor extent) Hoover Dam in Nevada as case studies. Dam building and removal illustrates the interdisciplinary, complex and contentious nature of most environmental questions. Water is one of the most politicized natural resources, in part because it is a basic resource required for life. In addition, dam building and removal ties together a host of other environmental issues. These issues include respect for nature in its natural state, respect for traditional ways of life (e.g., fishing rights of Native Americans), environmental justice for poorer people dwelling in arid regions and those in cities who benefit from water relocation, the desirability of non-fossil fuel sources of energy, and finally balancing the conflicting rights and interests of the many people who gain or lose economically from decisions regarding dams.

This course will highlight the intersection of philosophy and economics as two disciplines which are each concerned with value. How should we begin to understand the values created and the values destroyed in building a large dam in a natural setting? What assumptions about the nature of value underlie decisions to build (or remove) large dams? The course will explore the theories of value in both economics and philosophy. We believe the combination of economics and philosophy will provide and extremely fruitful interdisciplinary mix for studying these issues. Further, we believe that our respective experience with interdisciplinary programs and teaching will allow us to bridge the gap between our disciplines.


Course Trip

This course includes a ten-day trip to the sites of Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam. The trip will include meetings with Federal and state officials responsible for dam operation, recreation management, wildlife protection, electricity production, water allocation and water conservation. In addition we will meet with representatives environmental advocacy groups, and Native American groups. Finally, the trip will include visits to the Grand Canyon, a natural setting that approximates the canyons flooded by Glen Canyon Dam, and Las Vegas, a water and electricity intensive urban community built in a desert environment, extensive portions of which are dedicated to the recreation and travel industry.


Overview of the issues:

Humans have taken the liberty of permanently altering the flow of many rivers in order to ensure that water will be available in the right place at the right time. Thousands of reservoirs have been built to provide hydropower to growing cities, store water for irrigated agriculture, provide flatwater recreation and for flood control. Lost in the process were pristine canyons, fisheries habitat, whitewater recreation and valuable cultural areas. Cost-benefit analyses on dam construction rarely included the lost environmental benefits. The recent removal of several dams, including the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River, have prompted a national debate of dam removal and (just as importantly) on the advisability of new dam construction.

The debate highlights the controversial nature of the valuation of environmental resources and endangered species. Environmental values are difficult to measure: should the value of a natural area be understood in terms of its recreational and perhaps educational value for current people, or its recreational and educational value for future generations of people? Perhaps its value lies in more than merely the “use” people can make of it. How can the value of the salmon recently sighted upstream from the former site of the Edwards Dam be measured?

From the perspective of theory, this course will focus on valuation as understood by philosophers and economists. Axiology is the area of philosophy concerned with valuation: it involves questions about the commensurability of values, intrinsic as distinct from instrumental values, and subjective versus objective sources of value. Economists typically use prices as measures of value. However, many environmental amenities do not have market values and thus proxies for value or estimates based on hypothetical markets must be derived for these intrinsic values. Monetization of nonmarket values for purposes of cost-benefit analysis has received considerable research attention recently and has sparked a lively and intense debate. Valuing the natural areas altered by dam construction provides a concrete backdrop for the theoretical issues. Other topics of relevance to this course will be respect for nature in its natural state, respect for traditional ways of life (e.g., fishing rights of Native Americans), environmental justice for poorer people dwelling in arid regions and those in cities who benefit from water relocation, the use of dams as non-fossil fuel sources of energy, and balancing the conflicting rights and interests of the many people who gain or lose economically from decisions regarding dams.

The course will focus on Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. The Colorado River is one of the most managed rivers in the world. Glen Canyon Dam is the fourth highest dam in the country. The dam, completed in 1964, is 710 feet high, has a crest length of 1,560 feet and contains 4,901,000 cubic yards of concrete. Lake Powell, the reservoir behind the dam, has a storage capacity of 27,000,000 acre-feet of water. At the time of its construction, nothing of its size had ever been attempted. David Brower, formerly the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, still regrets not fighting harder against the building of Glen Canyon Dam. He claims that the unique beauty of the canyon should never have been flooded. In a trade for saving a smaller stretch at the confluence of the Green and the Yampa Rivers, he did not fight the construction of Glen Canyon Dam. Brower then fought bitterly against the construction of a dam that would have flooded part of the Grand Canyon. He won this battle. Decades after the Lake Powell began filling behind Glen Canyon Dam, the Sierra Club has recently argued for removal of the dam. At stake are hundreds of thousands of annual tourists providing millions in recreation dollars, hydropower that provides electricity for southern California, water storage for irrigation. Could a dam of this size ever be removed? How should one go about deciding whether removal is warranted or advantageous?



Tues. 4/23
Introduction to the Southwest
Introduction to Economic Value

  Meeting with Dean’s Office staff  
Wed. 4/24 Overview Cost-Benefit Analysis NOAA 1-65
  First Work Day  
Thurs. 4/25 Nature and Intrinsic Value Pojman 76-86
    Pojman 229-235
    Pojman 31-33
WEEK 2:    
Tues. 4/30 Values: Hydropower vs. Endangered Species Freemen articles
  Issues in Maine  
Wed. 5/1 Work Day  
Thurs. 5/2 Visit to former Edwards Dam Site  
  Visit Ft. Halifax Dam  
  Canoe Trip  
  Leave Lewiston 8:00 a.m.  
WEEK 3:    
Tues. 5/7 Philosophical Perspective on
Cost-Benefit Analysis
Pojman 467-474
Pojman 474-482
Wed. 5/8 Work Day  
Thurs. 5/9 Final Trip Planning  
  Draft Papers Due  
WEEK 4-5:    
Sun. 5/12 Leave for Las Vegas  
  Leave Lewiston at _____  
Tues. 5/21 Return  
  Arrive Lewiston approximately 11:00 p.m.  
Wed. 5/22 Debriefing and Discussion  
Thurs. 5/23 Issues  
  Final Papers and Trip Journals Due  

* You should be reading:

1) A Story that Stands Like a Dam
2) Report of the World Commission on Dams (
3) Silenced Rivers throughout the course.



Texts and Articles

Pojman, Louis. Environmental Ethics, Wadsworth, 2001.

Martin, Russell. A Story that Stands Like a Dam: Glen Canyon and the Struggle for the Soul of the West. (New York: Henry Holt, 1989)

McCully, Patrick. Silenced Rivers: the Ecology and Politics of Large Dams (London ; Atlantic Highlands, N.J., USA : Zed Books, 1996)

Report of the World Commission on Dams. Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making. (London and Sterling, VA: Earthscan Publications, 2000)

Freeman, Myrick, “The Economic Benefits of Removing Edwards Dam,” Unpublished paper, Bowdoin College, May 1995.

Freeman, Myrick, “Review and Critique of FERC’s Benefit-Cost Analysis for the Edwards Dam Project,” a Report to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, March 1996.

Abbey, Edward. The Monkey Wrench Gang. (New York : Avon, 1975)


Other Suggested Resources:

Reisner, Mark. Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water.t, Penguin Books, 1986.

Bureau of Reclamation. Lake Powell: Jewel of the Colorado (photography book) (Washington, DC: Department of the Interior, 1965)

Porter, Eliot. The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon and the Colorado River (photography book) (San Fransico: Sierra Club Books, 1963)


Useful Websites:

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (website)

Sierra Club (website),

Glen Canyon Action Network (website), (Moab, UT)

Other Materials in Lorelei Purrington’s office: Pettengill 253


Course Requirements:

This is a seminar course. You are expected be prepared for class and participate during class. This is also an interdisciplinary class. You are expected to be responsible for those areas for which you need to read more than others. (Read as you need!)

You will be required to write two short papers (5-10 pages) for this class. One paper will present an argument for the removal of Glen Canyon Dam. The second paper will present an argument for the importance of keeping Glen Canyon Dam. More details on this to follow.

You are also asked to keep a journal of our class trip.

Drafts of your two papers are due on Thursday 5/9. Final papers are due on the last day of class.

Your final grade will be a combination of your class participation, (30%), your journal (20%) and your two papers (50%).