Property Rights Proponents Target Ecologists Protection for Rats, Bats, Bugs, Weeds Sparks Revolt by Landowners

Article excerpt

"TOADS, OWLS, CHUBS, suckers, rats and bats, bugs and weeds - they're claiming title to our lands."

With those words, Dean Kleckner, president of the American Farm Bureau, signaled a drive in Congress aimed at bottling up environmental legislation over the issue of property rights.

"To live is to pollute," Kleckner explained, speaking last week at the Farm Bureau's annual meeting in Florida.

A potent new property rights movement tied to general distrust of government threatens some of the conservation bills in Congress this year, say environmental advocates.

Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, D-La., is the unofficial leader of the property rights movement. He said Wednesday that he intended to push a variety of amendments this year dealing with property questions and seeking to identify the cost of protecting the environment.

In addition, he plans to introduce a "landowners rights" bill next month that seeks to protect people from environmental controls.

"When you lose your job because of an owl or you lose your shrimp boat because of a turtle, the cost of environmental protection hits home," Tauzin said. "Things are coming to a head now, because there are train wrecks across the country between environmental protection and property rights."

The property rights movement surfaced on the House floor last fall over amendments to legislation calling for a national biological survey, an effort to preserve species of animals and plants. Before the bill was approved by the House, the measure was delayed by a surprisingly strong effort to demand that landowners give written consent before such surveying can take place.

"The fact that that debate occurred at all indicated changing politics in the House," said Mark Maslyn, a Farm Bureau lobbyist.

This year, property questions are expected to be raised in debates over such environmental bills as renewal of the Clean Water Act and reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act.

One of the early tests could come on a bill in the House to elevate the Environmental Protection Agency to Cabinet status. Property rights backers intend to push an amendment requiring that the costs and benefits be weighed in environmental bills. …