If I were to walk up to you and take your wallet at gunpoint, that would be stealing. If I were to take your things with the mere threat of violence, that would be stealing. If I forced you to sell your $100 item to me for only $10, that would also be stealing. None of these examples of theft should be all that hard to identify, but the government doesn’t play by the same rules you and I do.
The right of eminent domain allows the government to take your property if there is a pressing public need for it. If the government is building a new highway, it can force the landowners along the route to sell, but it must pay fair market value for the land. This holds true for creating or expanding airports, public transportation networks, or any other valid public use. A strip of land near my home is owned by the city, and nothing can be built on it since the city needs full access to this land to work on the utility pipes that lie buried underneath it. The Fifth Amendment outlines the government’s power of eminent domain: “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” But the government doesn’t always pay much attention to the Constitution.
In 1996, then-President Clinton staged a photo op in Arizona as he signed an executive order to establish the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. He mouthed some words about the monument being necessary to protect the cryptobiotic crust and other buzzwords by the environmental left. Never mind that the EPA didn’t see any need for this land to be set off-limits by the government. So why did this land grab happen? I can see two reasons: first, grabbing this land allowed Clinton to boost his popularity with environmental leftists while simultaneously sticking it to Utah – the only state where President Clinton had finished third in the 1992 Presidential election. The second reason is more conspiratorial. At the last minute, the Kaiparowits Plateau was included as part of the Monument. There is nothing on the plateau that warrants its being added, but it effectively blocked a multi-year deal to extract the low-sulfur coal beneath that plateau. Kaiparowits is the only known U.S.-based location where this low-sulfur, low-polluting coal can be found. The only other known location is in Indonesia and is owned by the Lippo Group, run by the Riady family – the same family implicated in the Chinese money scandals during President Clinton’s terms in office. Ignoring the possibly conspiratorial nature of this land grab, however, the order by President Clinton effectively stole the land and its use from the state of Utah. The profits from the sale of coal would have funded Utah’s already drastically underfunded public schools.
“Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool,” said Clinton presidential aide Paul Begala. Not really. With a stroke of the pen, President Clinton stole the land from Utah.
The Environmental Protection Agency is also guilty of stealing from the American people. Rather than just taking the land outright, the EPA will simply deny landowners the full use of their land. People have been denied the use of their property because standing water is somewhere on the land, and the EPA swoops in and declares it a wetland. Once a piece of property is declared a wetland, the landowner is not allowed to drain the land or build anything there. Stroke of some bureaucrat’s pen, and the owner loses control of his land without “just compensation.” The farmers in the Klamath basin in Oregon have seen this theft in action. In 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt declared that the inhabitants of the Klamath basin would be guaranteed their water rights “forever,” but the promise of a President doesn’t matter as far as the EPA is concerned. EPA bureaucrats decided the needs of the endangered bottom-feeding suckerfish were more important than the rights of the Klamath farmers, so they descended on the Klamath basin and shut off the farmers’ water supply, diverting it to keep the rivers full and the suckerfish happy. But why does a river need to be kept running high when the “endangered” fish is a bottom-feeder? However, questions like this don’t matter when the greater good of protecting a fish is at stake. Do you imagine the EPA was in the least concerned about the endangered livelihood of the Klamath farmers? The EPA has shown itself over and over again to have far more interest in the welfare of a frog or a fish over a human being. Call me a species-ist, but I am more concerned with the welfare of my fellow humans over some bird, amphibian or insect.
North of Oregon is the beautiful state of Washington, where again we see governmental theft in action. King County is the largest county in Washington, incorporating the major metropolis of Seattle and more rural areas to the east of Lake Washington. King County Executive Ron Sims has proposed a new property plan, termed “65-10″ in some circles. Basically, the proposal would mandate that land owners in rural King County must leave 65% of their property untouched and undeveloped. 35% of the property could be cleared, but only 10% could be built on. If Executive Sims has his way, over half of the county’s rural acreage will be mandated by law to lie perpetually fallow. Do you think King County will compensate the owners for 65% of the total value of their land? Not bloody likely. This proposed governmental theft is being justified by the environmentalists living in urban Seattle because of the need to keep the watershed in place. It’s telling that these urban greenies are targeting only the areas where they do not live. Jill Boccla recently asked in a community forum, “Are you managing my property for me, or are you managing my land for you?” Of course King County sees the property as being its own to manage, rather than belonging to the people whose names are on the land titles, but this is pretty much the way bureaucrats always see private property. Last year California was ravaged by intense forest fires, fueled by fallen trees that had lain unharvested because the environmentalist bureaucrats felt it was better to let the forests lie untouched rather than cleaning out debris. When the fires came – and the fires always do come – the abundance of dry fuel ensured the fires would rage out of control for a long time. This King County plan would essentially do the same in Washington, since people would be kept from clearing fallen trees off their own property.
“Just compensation” would mean paying the King County landowners at least 65% of the value of their property, since the proposed law would effectively take away their rights of ownership. “Just compensation” would be paying the farmers in the Klamath basin for their lost livelihoods, or better yet, letting them keep their promised water. “Just compensation” would be paying the state of Utah for the billions of dollars it lost to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. But though it would be called stealing if it were done by private citizens, this is just another case of “government business.”