All Commentary
Wednesday, January 1, 1997

Book Review: This Land Is Our Land: How to End the War on Private Property by Congressman Richard Pombo and Joseph Farah

Myriad Examples of the Attack on Private Property Rights

St. Martin’s Press • 1996 • 224 pages • $22.95

Professor Kazmann lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

This timely book deals with an important subject: property rights. After two short introductory chapters that review the history of property rights and the place of property rights as described in the Constitution, Richard Pombo and Joseph Farah get down to business: How are property rights faring at present?

The authors enumerate the legislation that is already in place and use case histories to describe the deleterious impact on individuals. As a hydrologic engineer with 50 years of experience in the development of water resources, I was particularly interested in the Corps of Engineers and its connection with wetlands. Ever since the virtual demise of the dam-building program in the 1980s, the Corps has been looking for another mission. This turns out to be protection of wetlands—even though there is no authoritative definition of what a wetland is. According to the General Accounting Office, changes in wetland definition have significantly expanded the area of land under the jurisdiction of the Corps, possibly doubling it to perhaps as much as 200 million acres, 40 percent of which is privately owned.

The violation of property rights by the Corps (and the EPA) is epitomized by the story of John Pozsgai of Morrisville, Pennsylvania, who bought a dump next to a small streambed. He removed tons of garbage, thousands of old tires and car parts, and replaced this eyesore with clean dirt. He was convicted of filling a wetlands without a permit. His sentence? A prison term of 33 months. There are many more such stories, all taken from the records and involving people who opposed the bureaucracy in the courts and in congressional hearings.

The entire book is devoted to showing how the bureaucracies have increased their areas of operations under the guise of protecting the environment from the legitimate operations of the owners of private property. In essence, environmental regulators claim that man is not a part of nature, a fundamentally flawed concept. People have been on the face of the earth for a very long time and have altered the original environment, developing mines, building roads, lakes, houses, and all sorts of buildings. People also plant trees, lawns, and crops, and prevent wild animals from endangering the lives of children. All of these legitimate activities depend on property rights and all are the target of the regulators and their green activist helpers.

This Land Is Our Land does a great service in bringing into one focus myriad examples of the attack on property rights—read, property holders. We need more books like this one to provide information to people who come under attack by environmentalists, animal-rights advocates (they can discover endangered species faster than biologists can classify them), and assorted government bureaucracies. But most of all we need to demand that before a property owner is condemned for violating a regulation, the regulation itself has been subjected to cost-benefit analysis and that the scientific basis is not the junk science that is polluting our courts and legislatures.