Grass-roots organizations across America are joining forces to tell
Congress that the federal government already owns too much land,
exercises too much control over the land it doesn't own, and that the
American people want the land-grab to stop.
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Coming on the heels of congressional hearings last week, the Property
Rights Congress will bring leaders from more than 100 grass-roots
organizations to hammer out a strategy to defeat the president's
proposal to set aside up to $2.3 billion per year to buy private
property. The two bills under consideration in the House (HR701 and
HR798) seek to create a mechanism to set aside proceeds from the Outer
Continental Shelf oil royalties into a dedicated fund for use by federal
and state agencies for the acquisition of private property.
The two bills represent a work-in-progress. The purpose of last
week's hearings was to begin forging the various ideas into a single
measure that would give federal agencies a perpetual fund for land
acquisition outside the normal congressional appropriation process.
Proponents of federal land ownership have long complained that Congress
fails consistently to appropriate all the funds that are needed for land
acquisition. The Property Rights Congress contends that nearly 40
percent of the total land area is already owned by federal, state and
local governments. Additional, but unknown acreage of land is owned by
more than 700 private "conservancy" organizations such as The Nature
Conservancy, taking even more land out of productive future use.
Grass-roots organizations that oppose government ownership of land
will convene in Washington, D.C. on March 19 to adopt policy resolutions
and put the final touches on legislative proposals designed to stop
expansion of the federal domain and to reduce regulatory intrusion into
private property rights.
The movement is not just another organization. There is no
corporation, no board of directors, no foundation or industry grant.
"There are just a lot of people who are tired of watching the government
take control of private property," says Tom DeWeese, President of the
American Policy Center, one of the movement's organizers.
The first resolution proposed by the movement
calls for a policy of NO NET LOSS OF
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The Environmental Working Group sees the movement as a threat. A Feb.
26 Alert from the group entitled "Calling All Activists" described the
movement as "the backlash fringe" of "hard-core property rights groups."
The Environmental Working Group is a project of the Tides Foundation,
which is funded in significant part, by grants from the federal
government, and foundations such as the Pew Charitable Trusts.
"The Washington meeting is just the beginning," says Robert O.
Voight, president of the Maine Conservation Rights Institute, another of
the movement's organizers. "We are creating a mechanism through which
the voices of organizations and individuals throughout the land will be
heard loud and clear in the halls of Congress."
Through creative uses of the Internet, the movement has provided a
way for various committee members to develop resolutions without having
meetings. Participants can offer comments and suggestions to committee
members, and participants can share ideas and information through a
unique Internet PRC DIGEST. The Washington meeting is the first physical
meeting of the Property Rights Congress, but in reality, the Congress
has been in session since the web site was created. "The Congress need
never adjourn," says Mark Lamb, creator of the software on which the web
site operates. "Twenty-four hours a day, from anywhere in the world,
people can bring their ideas to the Property Rights Congress," he says.
"We have created a virtual community of property rights supporters and
given them an effective way to present their views to the world."
Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental
Conservation Organization (ECO) and chairman of Sovereignty