Restoring property rights

By Joseph Farah

Now that the Republicans have full control of the presidency and both houses of Congress for the first time in 60 years, we will find out whether the party practices what it preaches.

One of the principles to which Republicans have paid lip service over the last 25 years is property rights. But is that commitment real?

One man eager to find out is a very wealthy businessman in California who has used his wealth to support mostly Democrats over the years. His name is Angelo Tsakopoulos.

His reward for all that political involvement – millions of dollars worth – has been to be told by his government that he can’t farm his land the way he wants, he can’t run his ranches the way he wants and he can’t develop his properties the way he wants.

The latest example is a Ninth Circuit Court ruling prohibiting him from “deep plowing” former pastureland into farmland suitable for vineyards and orchards.

Why? Because plowing equals pollution, says the government.

The land in question contains “seasonal hydrological features, such as vernal pools and swales” that would be affected, the government maintains, by plowing. In layman’s terms, the land is wet part of the year – swampy. Plowing might endanger those swamps and the little sea monkeys that live in them.

Tsakopoulos, unlike most farmers and ranchers in his predicament, has the money to take this case to the U.S. Supreme Court – and is doing so.

But, interestingly, President Bush’s Justice Department has filed briefs opposing Supreme Court review. Justice claimed it was correct to find that plowing equals pollution.

Now, I don’t like Tsakopoulos. I don’t like the causes he supports. I don’t like the politicians he funds. But that’s not the point. This is his land. What he wants to do with it is of no concern to the government. What he wants to do with it is of no concern to his neighbors. What he wants to do with it is not pollution – it is improvement.

Turning over soil is not pollution. Pollution is adding something injurious to the environment. If turning over soil is pollution, agriculture in this country is in deep trouble.

Maybe you think Tsakopoulos is getting his just deserts. Maybe you don’t feel a bit sorry for him. Maybe you think the Bush administration should stick it to him for supporting Democrats.

This is very shortsighted and dangerous thinking. Because property rights should not be used as a political football. Property rights are the basis for our very freedom in this country. If any man’s property rights are threatened, all of our property rights are threatened. If the government can arbitrarily reduce the value of Tsakopoulos’ land, just think what it can do to you.

As the Bush administration gets ready to reorganize with new support for its political agenda in the House of Representatives and the Senate, it would be wise to consider the case of Angelo Tsakopoulos – and all the other farmers and ranchers out West who are losing their rights to work their land.

It’s time for the Republicans to live up to their rhetoric in support of property rights. It’s time to get the federal government’s nose out of other people’s business. It’s time to rethink the volumes of rules and regulations crafted to trip up just about any property owner. It’s time to renew our national commitment – our constitutional commitment – to property-owners’ rights.

The government has proved over and over again it is a lousy steward of natural resources. Individual property owners, with their own stake in the value of their land, have a much better track record.

This is not the Soviet Union. Nor do we want America to go the way of the Soviet Union. It’s time for the government to back off – sell off the land it has been accumulating at astonishing rates and at great expense to the taxpayer, repeal the Endangered Species Act and a thousand other pieces of obnoxious legislation meant to control people rather than to protect the environment, and dump all those judges who sit over the people so contemptuously and piously like those in the Ninth Circuit.