Policy Documents

Property Rights, Regulatory Takings, and Environmental Protection

Jonathan H. Adler –
April 1, 1996
From the Environmental Studies Program of CEI, Adler writes that the growth of federal land use regulation over the past two decades has sparked strong grass roots opposition in many parts of the country. Americans have been prevented from building homes, plowing fields, filling ditches, felling trees, clearing brush, and repairing fences, on their private land. This infringes private property rights and violate the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s admonition “. . . nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” When the government regulates the use of private land to achieve the same purpose, it rarely pays a dime. In this manner, private land is taken for public use without just compensation. Property rights are important for both economic and environmental reasons, and must be protected from both government regulation and private malfeasance. Compensating landowners when they are deprived of the reasonable use of their land will not produce environmental catastrophe. In many cases it will eliminate the negative environmental incentives created by the heavy hand of existing government regulations. Properly understood, property rights do not undermine sound environmental conservation, they lie at its foundation.