Protect Private Property Rights, 85 Groups Tell Senate, in Endangered Species Act Reform; Signatories Include Two Former Reagan Administration Cabinet Officials

Washington, D.C. – Today, a letter signed by 85 major national and state policy organizations was delivered to Senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee. The letter warns Senators that any Endangered Species Act reform effort must include strong private property rights protections. The coalition letter was spearheaded by The National Center for Public Policy Research.

“Whatever action the Senate takes on ESA reform should reflect the national, bipartisan outcry for strong property rights protections,” said David Ridenour, vice president of The National Center for Public Policy Research. “Quite simply, when the government takes your property, the least it can do is pay for it.”

National policy organizations signing the letter include: Coalitions for America, the American Conservative Union, the National Taxpayers Union, Eagle Forum, National Center for Policy Analysis, 60 Plus Association, National Legal and Policy Center, the Property Rights Foundation of America, and the American Family Association, among many others.

The letter was also signed by the Honorable Edwin Meese III, who served as U.S. Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan, and the Honorable Don Hodel, who served as both U.S. Secretary of Interior and Secretary of Energy in the Reagan Administration.  Former Senator Malcolm Wallop (R-WY) signed the letter as well.

State policy groups, including the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, Oregonians in Action, the James Madison Institute, the Illinois Policy Institute, and the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, among others, also signed the letter.

“Today, private landowners live in fear of the ESA. Those who harbor endangered species on their property or merely own land suitable for such species can find themselves subject to severe land use restrictions that can be financially devastating,” said Ridenour.  “This creates a perverse incentive for landowners to preemptively ‘sterilize’ their land to keep rare species away.  Such sterilizations benefit no one – least of all the species the ESA was established to protect.”

“Property owners should not be punished for being good environmental stewards, yet that is exactly what the ESA does,” said Peyton Knight, director of environmental and regulatory affairs for The National Center.

In order to fix the ESA’s perverse incentive problem, the letter says property owners who are denied the use of their land should be given 100 percent, fair market value compensation for losses. This would bring the ESA in line with the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees such compensation (“nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”).

“Americans nationwide were outraged when, in Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court ruled that government could evict property owners to financially benefit private interests,” said Knight. “As terrible as eminent domain abuse is, at least the victims in eminent domain cases are compensated. Landowners who lose their property under the Endangered Species Act don’t receive a dime.”

Under the current ESA, landowners who apply to the Department of Interior for permission to use their property, are often forced to wait years for a response – years during which they often are unable to use the land they legally own, and on which they pay taxes.

The letter suggests that establishing a simple time limit within which the Department of Interior must issue final decisions to landowners’ requests could prevent this injustice. 

Meaningful ESA reform faces a big hurdle in the Senate, as the chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Act is liberal Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI).

The National Center tried to schedule a meeting to discuss upcoming reform efforts with Senator Chafee’s staff.  However, the prospect of a meeting was immediately rebuffed by the Senator’s staff after The National Center made it clear it wished to discuss the importance of protecting property rights in such a meeting.

“Allergy season is just around the corner and ‘property rights’ are apparently ragweed to the Chafee office,” said Knight.  “Unfortunately, this strangest of allergies hurts American property owners and endangered species more than it does the Senator and his staff.”

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a non-partisan, non-profit educational foundation based in Washington, DC. Founded in 1982, it has promoted innovative, market-based solutions to environmental problems.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.