“Property Rights” arguments don’t wash

By TONY COBB, a member of REP’s Board of Directors

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Tony wrote this response to a property-rights, anti-conservation letter posted on a Maryland listserve, June 10, 2000


To Scott Taylor:

You commit the same fallacies as other apologists for the “Wise Use” and “property rights” movements, e.g., comparing the stewardship of public lands in this country with central planning in the old Soviet Union. We saw the same type of argument in the early days of integration: just leave people alone and they will work it out. It didn’t — and doesn’t — always work. Sometimes federal intervention is appropriate.

Most major environmental issues are not simply issues for self-interest or local control. Air and water quality, for example, are cross-jurisdictional problems. What happens in one local jurisdiction affects the surrounding ones as acid rain and wind-borne effluvia are carried into neighboring communities and states. The anti-environmental movement in our party — as epitomized by Congressman John Doolittle’s “Project Evergreen” and Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth’s rantings and ravings — is driven largely by profit and and obsession with the quarterly bottom line. It resembles more the old corporate socialism model championed by generations of Democratic Congresses than Republican ideals of individual responsibility and acknowledgement that one individual’s liberty ends where another’s begins. Check Congressman Kasich’s stand through the Green Scissors Coalition on such matters.

If your use of your property negatively affects the quality of life for the rest of us, we will — count on it, will — have a problem with that.

The hue and cry of the “property rights” movement that people should be compensated for obeying the law or that zoning and other restrictions are an unconstitutional restraint on private ownership is self-serving and indefensible nonsense.

And you might want to see who in the Maryland delegation voted for CARA (the Conservation and Restoration Act) before classifying it as a left-wing measure. The Dems have stolen Barry Goldwater’s commitment to conservation because Congressional Republicans are forever carrying the mail for corporate contributors.

Some Republicans are beginning to see the light: that stewardship of God’s earth is our responsibility.

The issue is not private versus public control in such matters as clean air and water and management of public lands. It is rather finding a reasonable balance between them. Here is all we in REP are advocating, because these principles have been and will be effective in the long term:

  1. With Congressman Kasich, studying ways to eliminate government subsidies for environmentally damaging activities;
  2. Promoting conservation incentives, along with sound regulations and strict enforcement policies, for individuals and industries whose work affects public health, wildlife, wildlands, and other natural resources;
  3. Encouraging alternative energy sources and efficiency practices; and
  4. Achieving measurable pollution reduction and prevention through performance-based regulation and incentives.

I would add that we look toward sweeping out the trash of stereotypes like “sentimental preferences for owls and squirrels over jobs,” when what we are talking about is maintaining a sound, healthful ecology.

Actually local economies thrive where the ecological balance is maintained and quality of life assured. If you will read our four principles carefully, you will see that we do not advocate an exclusive role for federal “command and control” but an effective amalgam of regulation and market-based incentives.

Finally, this is a demonstrably classical conservative program of which our member, the late Barry Goldwater, approved. Surely Senator Goldwater is not seen by members of our party these days as a left-wing nut. He was consistent in his approach and true to his conservatism until his death.

And there is nothing more conservative than conservation.

Tony Cobb
Republicans for Environmental Protection