Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Private Property, Public Interest

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Private Property, Public Interest

Article excerpt

Here is the crux of House Republicans' plans, in their Contract With America, regarding conflicts between public policy and private property: "The (proposed) Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act allows private property owners to receive compensation (up to 10 percent of fair market value) from the federal government for any reduction of value of their property." Disputes are to be settled by outside arbitrators.

Their proposal may look good at first glance. Upon closer examination, however, the gains for public policy are hard to discern.

Here's why. The issue is the conflict between the rights of private property owners to do what they like with their property and the public's right to clean air, safe water and sustainable wildlife. Proponents of laws to force the government to pay for imagined or real lost value of private property want to block or roll back many regulations and laws that protect the environment, working conditions and natural resources. They believe the rights of private property owners should be absolute or nearly so.

The more appropriate question concerns the government "taking" away, or diminishing, the value of property. The Fifth Amendment prohibits taking property without just compensation.

Though it has long been a settled matter that restrictions may be placed on property used in the interest of clean air, clean water, worker health and safety and for other purposes, when it comes to environmental laws, the so-called takings argument may have limited application. …

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