DENVER _ When you bought those 40 woodland acres, it was an
investment. Years from now, when your child's college tuition
comes due, you could cut and sell the timber for profit.
But then the government, citing environmental concerns, says
you can't. And the value of your land falls faster than a
Does the government owe you compensation?
Yes, says a burgeoning property rights movement. In the courts
and in the legislatures, it is seeking to underscore and augment
the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which says private
property shall not "be taken for public use, without just
The property rights movement argues that "taking" property
need not mean taking possession of it _ that by regulations, the
government takes away control of property and the value of it,
and should pay. A recent Supreme Court decision has given the
movement added impetus.
Property rights is an issue that is as old as this country.
But the current movement dates to the mid-1980s, and was inspired
by an ever-increasing number of environmental regulations.
"We've gone to being the most regulated society in history,
and we're starting to see the effects of it," said David Alnasi,
of the Washington-based Defenders of Property Rights. "People are
tired of getting their property taken, and this is the
Environmentalists like Jon Goldin-Dubois of the Colorado
Private Interest Research Group say "takings" laws hinder the
government's ability to enforce regulations "in the best interest
of the public as a whole."
The movement is "about using property any way I want without
regard for public safety," said Carmi McLean of Clean Water
But the property-rights tide is rising, nonetheless. Between
80 and 90 bills addressing the issue were introduced in some 30
states this year. As of mid-May, seven bills had passed state
legislatures; two passed in all of 1993.
"For 30 states to be considering bills in this area, this
ranks up there with unfunded federal mandates," said Larry
Morandi of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"It is the top environmental issue this session in terms of
state legislation," Morandi said.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative
clearinghouse for state legislators, is pushing the agenda,
providing model legislation for interested legislators.
"Environmental protection benefits society; therefore, society
should bear the costs," reads the outline of ALEC's property
rights agenda this year.
"It is inequitable for government to shift the cost of
environmental protection to a small number of private property
owners who are coerced into `donating' their assets. …