News
A Grand Slam of Eminent Domain Abuses
Friday, October 28, 2011 3:28 pm | By J. Michael Wahlen

As the World Series reaches a climax tonight in one of the most exciting Series in decades, a small storm in the world of baseball has also been brewing on the West coast. Oakland Athletics owner Lew Wolf is interested in bringing the A’s to San Jose, where the Mayor is pulling out all stops to make it happen.

While Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has yet to sign off on the agreement, and the league will have to vote on change, all the plans are in place to make this happen. The only hiccup is the land. AT&T and Los Gatos are refusing to sell their 5.5 acres that are needed to build the stadium. As a result, the city is considering using eminent domain to push them off of the property. Thus, despite profitable businesses using the property, the government is willing to kick them off to benefit a more politically connected business.

Unfortunately, this scene has become all too common in the world of sports. A similar situation has occurred with many teams, recently including the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts. Most famously, then Governor George W. Bush used eminent domain to force many to sell their land in order to build the Texas Ranger’s Ballpark, though they have since relocated. The result is a negative precedent that allows sports team to take other’s property rights with little political resistance.

While we here at the PRA wish the Rangers the best of luck tonight (and the same to the Cardinals, of course), we do not support for the continued use of eminent domain to build sports arenas. This is clearly a repetition of the Kelo case; the government should not be able to kick someone off of their land simply because the government believes it can make money off of it. Sports teams should be assets of the local community, not usurpers of it.
 

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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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