The Clean Water Act Hits Home
Thursday, October 20, 2011 4:16 pm | By J. Michael Wahlen

The Property Rights Alliance has long been concerned about the power given to the government by the Clean Water Act (CWA). This act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tremendous authority over private property by allowing it to regulate virtually any body of water, from puddles to great lakes, in the name of clean water. Predictably, this has led to an endless overreach by the EPA, which uses it to file over 3,000 “administrative compliance orders” per year against businesses and individuals.

The orders do tremendous harm to the economy as well as to people’s lives by preventing them from using their property the way they had intended. This is one reason that the Physical Property Rights ranking by the PRA’s International Property Rights Index (IPRI) has shown a decline in recent years for the United States.

The great harm that each and everyone one of these “administrative compliance orders” causes has recently been brought home by a couple from Idaho. Mike and Chantell Sackett purchased .63 acres of land for $23,000 in 2005 to build their dream home. Despite being 500 feet from the nearest body of water, and that the EPA’s own land registry did not list the land as a wetland, the EPA ruled that the parcel is a wetland. This prohibited the Sacketts from building their house. To make matters worse, the EPA fined them over $36,000 a day for bringing in gravel and not turning in an annual report on the state of the land. The fine has grown to reach over $40 million. While the Sackett’s have sued the EPA, the courts have ruled that the couple has no right to challenge the decision, and that EPA orders are immune from judicial review.

Currently, the Sacketts live in a rental home next to their property, as they wait for the Supreme Court to hear their case this term. Legal experts are divided as to whether or not the Sacketts are likely to win their appeal. Hopefully, however, the Supreme Court will end this abuse by the government, sending a clear signal that property rights are still upheld strongly here in the U.S.

To learn more about the Sackett’s story, and to see where the case is now, click here for a short video by Mark Hyman, at Sinclair Broadcasting.

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Excessive Regulations: The Case of Gibson Guitars
Wednesday, October 12, 2011 5:10 am | By Kelsey Zahourek

The jobs issue is, rightly so, on the minds of nearly everyone in Washington these days. With the defeat of the President’s so-called “jobs bill” in the Senate, the White House vowed to push forward measures one-by-one that would be job creators. One area to begin is by looking at the impact of burdensome federal regulations on the economy and jobs and immediately seek to reform or eliminate the vast majority.

Earlier this week, the Property Rights Alliance wrote about abuses that occur under the Endangered Species Act. The piece highlighted how expansion of ESA regulations has cost cattle ranchers, farmers, and businesses their livelihoods and countless jobs. The timber industry in the Pacific Northwest was nearly wiped out due to the spotted owl being placed on the list. My colleague, Christopher Prandoni has written about how proposed regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the energy, infrastructure, and technology industries.

Another out of control regulation is the little known Lacey Act, originally passed in 1900 to regulate the trade of wildlife and expanded in 2008 to curb illegal logging. Under the Act, if the U.S. government interprets that a foreign law, concerning the exportation of wood or wildlife, has been broken it is up to the U.S. government to conduct raids and confiscate said products.

The Heritage Foundation recently wrote about overly broad criminal prosecution under the Lacey Act. Heritage cites an example where a small business owner spent six and a half years in confinement because he used plastic instead of cardboard to wrap fish, which federal prosecutors determined violated Honduran law. (The Honduran government said otherwise).

The most recent case that brought problems with the Lacey Act into the fore was the August 24 raid on Gibson Guitar’s Nashville and Memphis factories by armed federal agents. The Department of Justice seized 10,000 fingerboards, 700 guitar necks and 80 guitars as part of an investigation into whether the company had illegally imported ebony from India. All told, this raid has cost Gibson over $1 million and charges have yet to be brought against the company.

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The Use and Abuse of the Endangered Species Act
Monday, October 10, 2011 11:35 am | By J. Michael Wahlen

The United States has a long history of working to protect species from extinction. In 1939, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) was created for this purpose, and in 1973 the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed to augment its power. Protecting species naturally puts the government at odds with landowners, however. The ESA effectively allows the government to determine how land can be used, even if it is on private land. As current estimates put the percentage of endangered species on private land at 90%, this conflict is somewhat inevitable. This became evident even as far back as 1978, when the American Farm Bureau voiced concerns that the ESA would give the federal government the ability to prefer the health of a species over the livelihood of a citizen.

One example of this occurred in 1990, when the spotted owl was listed as an endangered species. The government argued that the timber industry was killing its natural habitat, wiping out the species. After its listing, U.S. timber industry revenues decreased by nearly 90%, putting many out of business. Further researched revealed that the timber industry was not at fault; the real issue was the barred owl, who was eating all of the spotted owl’s natural food. Nonetheless, the damage to the timber industry remained.

Obama has recently paved the way for many similar abuses of the ESA by forcing the USFWS to list many new species under the ESA in the name of “clearing the backlog of cases.” Beginning in 2000, environmental groups began to flood the USFWS with requests for new additions to the ESA. Groups like the WildEarth Guardians have filed for over 1,230 plants and animals to be added to the list since 2007. Obama has agreed to analyze each and every request beginning in May of 2011.

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