DURING THE PAST FEW YEARS, DOZens of grass-roots property-rights organizations have sprung up across the country to protest what their members see as environmental regulations run amok. "After 20 years of dealing with intrusive regulatory regimes in the United States, people are starting to realize these rules are affecting them and aren't protecting the environment," says David Almasi, publicity director of Defenders of Property Rights, a public-interest law firm in Washington, D.C.
The letter-writing and networking campaigns of these tiny organizations have started paying off. In April, Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice signed a bill that lets owners demand compensation when new state regulations reduce the value of privately held forest land by 40 percent or more. Since 1991, six states--Arizona, Delaware, Indiana, Utah, Virginia, and Washington--have enacted laws that require environmental regulators to assess the costs they impose on property owners. And 91 property-rights protection bills are pending in 36 state legislatures.
Under most of these bills, whenever a state agency proposes a regulation that would limit an owner's use of his property, such as designating property as wetlands or as habitat for endangered species, the agency has to estimate how much that regulation would reduce the property's value and report the cost. …