Environmental Policy Could Be Influenced by Vote in Arizona

Article excerpt

IN A CONFRONTATION likely to influence environmental policy nationwide, Arizona voters will decide Tuesday whether the state should be required to consider if proposed health, safety or environmental regulations violate private property rights.

The measure, if approved, would give every Arizona government agency the authority to prevent state safety or environmental rules from going into effect if officials found that the restrictions reduced the value of private property or unfairly blocked the use of it. Federal statutes would not be affected.

The initiative, Proposition 300, is based on a legal strategy developed at the University of Chicago in the mid-1980s to head off new environmental regulations by arguing that some violate the Fifth Amendment protection against the seizure, or taking, of private property for public use without compensation.

The "takings" strategy, as it is called, was adopted in an executive order signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. It requires federal agencies to review regulations for their effect on private property. It is also the basis of legislation passed since 1992 in 12 states, including Arizona.

Environmentalists succeeded in preventing the Arizona bill from going into effect pending a public referendum. The vote Tuesday will be the first ballot test of such legislation in the country.

Urban Democrats largely oppose the proposition, and Republicans and rural Democrats, allied with property rights groups, developers and farmers, support it. There are no independent polls, so the prospects for passage of the measure are uncertain.

"In a very real way, I equate this to the battle at Gettysburg," said Rob Smith, the Southwest representative for the Sierra Club, which is leading the fight to defeat the proposal. "No one picked the battlefield, but both sides are looking for this to be the decisive conflict."

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups are spending almost $200,000 in an effort to convince voters that if the initiative is approved, state agencies will develop a costly bureaucracy to review new regulations for their effect on private property, thus diverting scarce economic resources from protecting health and the environment. …