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To date, the turn toward market-based regulatory tools in the environmental, health, and safety context has tended to focus on taxes, tradable permits, and information disclosure rules, with comparatively little attention devoted to environmental assurance bonds. This paper argues that environmental assurance bonding offers a particularly attractive regulatory approach for contexts – such as the present state of nanoscale science and engineering – in which both the risk and the benefit sides of the regulatory equation are characterized by great uncertainty. Historical examples and existing scholarly analyses of environmental assurance bonding are reviewed, and the resulting lessons are situated within the larger debate over economic cost-benefit balancing and precautionary approaches to environmental law and policy. In particular, the paper argues that environmental assurance bonding displays the virtue of symmetric humility, paying due heed to the dynamism and complexity both of sociolegal systems such as markets and of biophysical systems such as aquatic ecosystems.

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