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Environmental Risks: Should Banks Be Liable?


  • Karine Gobert
  • Michel Poitevin


This paper studies the impact of banks' liability for environmental damages caused by their borrowers. Laws or court decisions that declare banks liable for environmental damages have two objectives: (1) finding someone to pay for the damages and (2) exerting a pressure on a firm's stakeholders to incite it to invest in environmental risk prevention. We study the effect that such legal decisions can have on financing relationships and especially on the incentives to reduce environmental risk in an environment where banks cannot commit to refinance the firm in all circumstances. Following an environmental accident, liable banks more readily agree to refinance the firm. We then show that bank liability effectively makes refinancing more attractive to banks, therefore improving the firm's risk-sharing possibilities. Consequently, the firm's incentives to invest in environmental risk reduction are weakened compared to the (bank) no-liability case. We also show that when banks are liable, the firm invests at the full-commitment optimal level of risk reduction investment. If there are some externalities such that some damages cannot be accounted for, the socially efficient level of investment is greater than the privately optimal one. In that case, making banks non liable can be socially desirable. On étudie ici l'effet de la responsabilité des banques pour les dommages environnementaux causés par leurs clients. Les tribunaux qui rendent les banques responsables de la réparation des dommages poursuivent le double objectif de trouver un payeur et de faire pression sur les partenaires des firmes qui peuvent inciter ces dernières à la réduction des risques. On étudie l'impact que de tels jugements peuvent avoir sur les relations de financement et sur les incitations à la prévention dans un environnement où les banques ne peuvent s'engager à toujours refinancer la firme. ¸ la suite d'un accident environnemental, les banques légalement responsables sont plus enclines à refinancer la firme en cause. On montre alors que la responsabilité bancaire facilite le refinancement, améliorant ainsi le partage de risque obtenu par la firme.0501s, par là-même, elle diminue les incitations des firmes à la prévention. On montre également que lorsqu'il y a responsabilité bancaire, le montant investi en technologie de prévention correspond à l'optimum privé. Si le niveau d'investissement socialement efficace est supérieur au niveau optimal privé, l'absence de responsabilité bancaire, qui pousse les firmes à surinvestir en capacité de prévention, peut être socialement désirable.

Suggested Citation

  • Karine Gobert & Michel Poitevin, 1998. "Environmental Risks: Should Banks Be Liable?," CIRANO Working Papers 98s-39, CIRANO.
  • Handle: RePEc:cir:cirwor:98s-39

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jonathan Thomas & Tim Worrall, 1988. "Self-Enforcing Wage Contracts," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 55(4), pages 541-554.
    2. BOYER, Marcel, 1995. "Environmental Protection Producer Insolvency and Lender Liability," Cahiers de recherche 9557, Universite de Montreal, Departement de sciences economiques.
    3. T. Randolph Beard, 1990. "Bankruptcy and Care Choice," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(4), pages 626-634, Winter.
    4. Segerson Kathleen, 1993. "Liability Transfers: An Economic Assessment of Buyer and Lender Liability," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 46-63, July.
    5. Segerson, Kathleen & Tietenberg, Tom, 1992. "The structure of penalties in environmental enforcement: An economic analysis," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 179-200, September.
    6. Weitzman Martin L., 1994. "On the Environmental Discount Rate," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 26(2), pages 200-209, March.
    7. Boyer, Marcel & Laffont, Jean-Jacques, 1997. "Environmental risks and bank liability," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 41(8), pages 1427-1459, August.
    8. Pitchford, Rohan, 1995. "How Liable Should a Lender Be? The Case of Judgment-Proof Firms and Environmental Risk," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(5), pages 1171-1186, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sandrine SPAETER, 2002. "Principe de precaution et comportements preventifs des firmes face aux risques environnementaux," Working Papers of BETA 2002-08, Bureau d'Economie Théorique et Appliquée, UDS, Strasbourg.
    2. Marcel Boyer & Donatella Porrini, 2007. "Sharing Liability Between Banks and Firms: The Case of Industrial Safety Risk," CIRANO Working Papers 2007s-04, CIRANO.
    3. André SCHMITT & Sandrine SPAETER, 2002. "Improving the Prevention of Environmental Risks with Convertible Bonds," Working Papers of BETA 2002-14, Bureau d'Economie Théorique et Appliquée, UDS, Strasbourg.
    4. Marcel Boyer & Donatella Porrini, 2000. "Law versus Regulation: A Political Economy Model of Instrument Choice in Environmental Policy," CIRANO Working Papers 2000s-57, CIRANO.

    More about this item


    Environment; bank liability; financial contracts; non-commitment; Environnement; responsabilité bancaire; contrats financiers; non engagement;

    JEL classification:

    • G20 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - General
    • G21 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Banks; Other Depository Institutions; Micro Finance Institutions; Mortgages
    • K32 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Energy, Environmental, Health, and Safety Law

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