NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How Environmental Regulation Makes Your Land, "Our Land"

July 10, 2001

The Constitution prohibits the government from taking a citizen's land for public use without just compensation. But an increasingly common practice known as "regulatory taking" allows a person to keep his land, while the state declares that he can't develop it or otherwise use it -- and there is no compensation.

Politicians and environmental activist groups developed regulatory taking as an extremely cheap and speedy way of furthering their environmental agenda.

Here are a few examples of how landowners have been victimized:

  • In Virginia, a retired contractor cannot build a house on a lot he owns -- which is in the middle of a development -- because it might disturb a nearby bald eagle.
  • In Oregon, a couple was forced to set aside 37 acres of their 200-acre commercially harvestable forest land to protect the northern spotted owl.
  • In California, vintners and farmers have found themselves effectively barred from activity because it might hurt the emergency-listed tiger salamander.
  • In Rhode Island, an 80-year-old retiree named Anthony Palazzolo was barred by the state from building on coastal property he had owned for 40 years -- because at some point in his tenure the land had been designated protected wetlands.

But Palazzolo took his case to the Supreme Court, which this term ordered Rhode Island's courts to revisit the question of whether he is entitled to just compensation for the lost value of his property.

Environmentalists and their political allies know that the government can't afford to compensate landowners for all the land they want to control. So court decisions which acknowledge the states' responsibility to compensate landowners in such cases are a blow to regulatory taking. Such decisions should curb environmental over-reach.

Source: Editorial, "The Earth Rebalanced," Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2001.

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