The concerns of those who have experienced the brute force of wetlands regulations are not going unheard. (See "The Swamp Thing," Apr.) Currently pending in the United States Senate is S. 50, the Private Property Rights Act, counting over 30 senators as its cosponsors. This bill ensures that agencies such as the Corps of Engineers establish appropriate procedures for determining whether or not their regulations tread on an individual's private property rights.
The existing wetlands regulations are issued under the authority of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. And yet, by undermining property rights, these regulations may well discourage the kind of environmental stewardship necessary to get "clean water." A case in point would be the rancher who attempts to repair a washed-out fence. Aggressive application of Section 404 could prevent such repair, even if that repair prevented cattle from invading a neighbor's property or damaging a sensitive riparian area. In this case, the rancher who keeps his property in good shape is rewarded by fines, imprisonment, or both. It is a ludicrous and counterproductive way to achieve environmental protection.
S. 50 will help prevent such ill-conceived regulation. The act forces federal agencies to evaluate their regulations, identifying those that could be rewritten to impose less on private property, and requiring that "just compensation" be offered for those that can't. The result is less litigation between individuals and their government, reduced costs to everyone involved, and added respect for a constitutional right on the part of government regulators.
The seven federal agencies that administer, rule, regulate, and tinker with real property meeting their individual criteria for "wetlands" have created a situation in which only Franz Kafka would be totally comfortable.
When I have a client who is facing wetlands problems, I usually explain the future in terms of a card game with the United States government. The government begins by telling you:
"YOU will now play the Wetlands Game with us. We will tell you when, where, and how long you will play."
The government will shuffle the cards and deal them each time, and we reserve the right to not tell you the rules we play by until each hand is completed. We further reserve the right to change the rules retroactively and tell you that a move we previously approved was an error and rescind that approval.
"We also reserve the right to not tell you how many players there are, who they are, and what rules they play by."
"You will put everything you own into the pot, including your property, your time, and your peace of mind."
One clarification: Lest anyone mistakenly think that the compensation for takings Mr. Henderson cited is automatic, let's set the record straight: When the government imposes property-use restrictions due to the presence of "wetlands,'' the only people who receive compensation for the reduced value of the land are those who sue the federal government and win. There is no automatic compensation because the government believes the wetlands regulations are more like zoning restrictions than condemnations. Unless you prove the taking in a federal court, the government gets the property free.
Tell me when we're having fun.
Karen Sorlie Russo
Attorney at Law
A political backlash is sweeping the country as stories are being published about the Environment Protection Agency prosecuting individuals in an arbitrary and capricious manner for tampering with so-called wetlands. The let's-make-an-example-of-him prosecution of Hungarian immigrant John Pozsgai made national headlines and caught America's attention. Hard-working citizens who are found guilty of defiling wetlands are receiving stiffer fines and prison sentences than drug dealers. The national wetlands program—which started out with laudable goals—has turned into a national witch hunt.
The Chicago Tribune reports that Sierra Club members "help" the Environmental Protection Agency detect "illegal" activities. The EPA awarded the group a $50,000 grant to spy and collect information on "threats" from adjacent land use. The volunteers pose as interested home buyers or bird watchers to observe suspicious activities.
Jo Ann Frobouck
Land Rights Letter
Rick Hendersen's article graphically describes the wetlands maladministration that has galvanized the agricultural community.
Despite a century of government policies that encourage the conversion of wetlands, preservation is now a cause célèbre. Many people were once grateful to be rid of mosquitoes, biting flies, and the diseases indigenous to "wetlands." They were also grateful that many of these wetlands were converted for the production of abundant, nutritious, and affordable food supplies.
Now some would elevate wetlands above all other natural resources. In their frantic effort to preserve wetlands, they see wetlands where they do not exist. To them, no sacrifice on the part of landowners is too great for their cause.
The Farm Bureau believes that wetlands ought to be more wet than dry. We also believe that landowners should be compensated when their land, or their right to use their land, is taken from them.
American Farm Bureau Federation
Park Ridge, IL
A Macro Problem?
Murray Weidenbaum's critique of my article, "Toward a New Economics," in World Watch magazine, is so replete with distortions and misrepresentations that it is difficult to know where to begin a response to it.
Mr. Weidenbaum based his entire argument on the lead sentence of my article. I related the story of World Bank economist Herman Daly searching through the indexes of three leading macroeconomics textbooks and finding no entries for "pollution," environment," "natural resources," or "depletion." I told this tale to set the stage for a broader article on the need to reconcile our economic rules and practices with the dictates of environmental sustainability.
In choosing to ignore the main thrust of my article, Mr. Weidenbaum shows sloppy scholarship. But he also missed the main point. "The unwary reader of World Watch," he writes, "may not recall that macroeconomics is the branch of economics which deals with such aggregate factors as inflation and unemployment, recessions and expansions in the national economy. It is microeconomics which deals with the specific questions involving the environment and its pollution." Mr. Weidenbaum then lists several microeconomics texts that discuss environmental factors.
It comes as no surprise that environmental terms appear in microeconomics texts. As Mr. Weidenbaum correctly notes, environmental factors directly influence the decisions of individual economic agents—factories, lumber mills, farmers, and so forth. But it is precisely the absence of such terms from macroeconomics texts that surprises biologists and unsettles ecologically enlightened economists because it suggests that the economy as a whole is isolated from the natural world.
How much carbon dioxide can economic activity add to the atmosphere without irreversibly changing the global climate? How much of the earth's biological productivity is the human economy now consuming, and how much more can it consume before natural systems begin to break down? These are macroeconomic sorts of questions, but they go unasked by policy makers and economists who continue to view the economy as an isolated entity rather than a subset of a finite biosphere.
Sandra L. Postel
Vice President for Research
Mr. Weidenbaum replies: Ms. Postel must have read my article too hastily. She seems to have overlooked my basic point—a rejection of her statement that a fundamental flaw in economics is "an almost lack of regard for the environment." In view of the large and rapidly growing literature on the economics of the environment, her charge is ludicrously ignorant of the facts.
I attempted to demonstrate that in a small way, by citing, not a sample of books on microeconomics, as she claims, but a selection of widely used textbooks on the principles of economics, which covers both micro and macro.
Yes, the study in her paper was prepared by an economist at the World Bank. Because she cited it so approvingly, I presume she has endorsed it. Has she changed her mind?
My sense of irony is piqued by Ms. Postel's response. As seems customary in the intellectual environment of the Worldwatch Institute, she does not hesitate to hurl wild and unsubstantiated charges. But she is surprisingly thin-skinned when it comes to accepting criticism.
Jacob Sullum's otherwise well-written article on cryonics ("Cold Comfort" Apr.) nonetheless ignored or underemphasized a few points.
Those who cannot buy new life insurance to cover the cost of cryonic suspension do have alternatives. For example, the Cryonics Institute has a form of revocable trust which can be used with a mix of assets, and the member pays nothing until death—except the $1,250 membership fee, and even that can be paid out over a year's time.
Although it is extremely inadvisable to delay action until your next of kin has died or is dying, CI can sometimes accept "post mortem" or last-minute cases, although at $35,000 instead of our standard minimum $28,000, and with less chance of revival.
All the organizations offer very inexpensive associate memberships for those who want to investigate and learn gradually. Our sister organization at the same address, the Immortalist Society, publishes The Immortalist monthly and offers a free information packet.
R. C. W Ettingel
President, Cryonics Institute
Oak Park, MI
Cryonics is not something with which governments should interfere, but it is something which caring people should speak out against. My reasons for opposing cryonics are as unusual as the ones of those who favor it. I consider myself one member of a species. If I were soon to die in possession of thousands of dollars, I would feel obliged to give that wealth to starving members of my species to help keep them alive. In this way I would be certain of helping several human beings, as opposed to taking an infintesimally small chance at helping only one. Cryonics appears to me to be one more cruel result of the idea that I should consider myself more valuable than other people.
David C, Swanson
New York, NY
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".