It seems to me a good example of the flaws in the regulatory principle. We do not need regulations, what we need are clear, generally-applicable laws. Regulations encourage people to focus not on the end, but the means. It makes everyone an arse-coverer. The goal becomes not preventing the bad thing happening, but rather ensuring that if and when the bad thing happens, you can't be blamed; you followed the regulations.
A simple example can be seen in speed limits. The end is that people drive safely. The speed limit is the supposed means, but any driver knows that obeying the speed limit does not in any way guarantee that you are driving at a speed that is appropriate to the road conditions.
Other examples abound, such as in the area of child protection. The end is to ensure that no dangerous kiddie-fiddlers get the job of school caretaker. If that happens, everyone scrambles to check that regulations were followed, and if so, phew, someone else is to blame.
In the case of environmental disasters, the establishment voices chime in about how the polluter should pay, as if this is a new concept. At Euractiv I learn: "Successive man-made disasters have seen the EU adopt rules to enforce the 'polluter pays principle' on companies responsible for major environmental damage." What this illustrates is how far we have been taken from simple, generally-applicable laws, for it was always axiomatic that were there had been harm to someone's property, whether by negligence or malice, the guilty party was to make good this harm.
In an essay entitled 'Conservation in the free market', in which he argues (as ever!) that whatever the question, in this case conservation and environmental protection, the answer is found in private property rights, Murray Rothbard states:
[F]rom the beginnings of modern air pollution, the courts made a conscious decision not to protect, for example, the orchards of farmers from the smoke of nearby factories or locomotives. They said, in effect, to the farmers: yes, your private property is being invaded by this smoke, but we hold that “public policy” is more important than private property, and public policy holds factories and locomotives to be good things. These goods were allowed to override the defense of property rights resulting in pollution disaster. The remedy is both “radical” and crystal clear, and it has nothing to do with multi-billion dollar palliative programs at the expense of the taxpayers which do not even meet the real issue. The remedy is simply to enjoin anyone from injecting pollutants into the air, and thereby invading the rights of persons and property. Period. The argument that such an injunction prohibition would add to the cost of industrial production is as reprehensible as the pre-Civil War argument that the abolition of slavery would add to the costs of growing cotton, and therefore, should not take place. For this means that the polluters are able to impose the high costs of pollution upon those whose property rights they are allowed to invade with impunity.Whether the company involved in the Hungarian disaster can wriggle out of responsibility remains to be seen. They should not be able to, and would not be able to, if the law was clear and general.