Balancing act

Published March 1, 2002

The first line of defense for a sound, common-sense approach to environment issues is made up of local citizens participating at the grassroots level. Brian Bishop, director of Rhode Island WiseUse and Rhode Island State Director for the Alliance for America, is an example of the power concerned citizens have to effect positive societal change.

The Alliance for America (AFA) is a 50-state network of hundreds of independent grassroots organizations, with a collective membership in the millions. These groups represent a variety of vocational, cultural, and political interests, including farming, grazing, forestry, commercial fishing, mining, recreation, energy, animal welfare, private property protection, local government, and various community and regional organizations.

The goals of the AFA are to bring reason back to the debate surrounding environmental protection, and to bring accountability to government regulators and bureaucrats. Although many issues continue to intensify and add to the complexity of the debate, AFA’s mission is to advocate responsible multiple use of public lands and natural resources, and to restore and protect constitutional private property rights.

Rhode Island WiseUse, founded by Bishop, is dedicated to multiple use as a guiding principle for all lands, public and private.

In addition to his significant participation in the Alliance for America and Rhode Island WiseUse, Bishop played an integral role in assisting Mr. Anthony Palazzolo present and win a landmark United States Supreme Court case last summer. (See “A win for private landowners,” Environment & Climate News, September 2001.)

In its decision, the Court rejected onerous land-use restrictions imposed on Palazzolo’s property cloaked in the guise of environmental protection. While the Court decision was a significant victory for Palazzolo and common-sense land-use laws, the case continues to play out in the lower courts.

Taylor: What is the philosophy of Alliance for America and Rhode Island WiseUse regarding environment and natural resource issues?

Bishop: The Alliance for America has specific goals: to protect private property rights and promote multiple use of public lands. In forming Rhode Island WiseUse, I synthesized those goals into a single idea: promoting balanced environmental policies that provide for the needs of people as well as those of other animals and plants. Rhode Island WiseUse promotes multiple use in a free-market environment as a guiding principle for the management of all lands, public and private.

This would self-evidently encourage privatization of the federal estate, but I believe that can and should be accomplished, as it has historically, through the division of the fee into logical resource-based segments. Whether through homesteading, grazing rights, mineral patents, water rights, fishing quotas, RS-2477 grants, and numerous other partial title vehicles, we have created the elements of a free market in resources–even in landscapes theoretically dominated by public ownership.

The fact that we have tied that well-ordered system with a Gordian knot lately has not altered my fundamental belief that there are many positive market-oriented resource management regimens, short of simply ridding the federal government of fee simple for anything but military bases, with which the “public lands” question can be addressed.

Taylor: And what of the “private lands” question?

Bishop: Multiple use was originally “conservative use” in the words of Gifford Pinchot, first chief of the Forest Service under Theodore Roosevelt. It was later simplified to “wise use” and popularized by Ron Arnold, president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. Multiple use means recreation, wilderness values, natural monuments, and endangered species can coexist peacefully and productively with extractive industries such as ranching, farming, mining, logging, and fishing. That concept does not lose its relevance at the limits of the public estate.

Maine, a state often criticized by environmentalists because it has so little public property, is nonetheless lionized by them for its recreational and habitat opportunities–which they erroneously maintain can be saved only by public acquisition. Thanks to the likes of Great Northern Paper, now Bowater, Maine’s private forests provide unparalleled public recreational access, making the state the hunting, fishing, and wilderness capital of the Northeast. This model challenges the argument that non-commodity resource values are correlated to public ownership.

Taylor: How has the change in power at the White House affected free-market environmentalism at the grassroots level?

Bishop: “Not enough” is the simple answer to that question.

The more complex answer is that no administration has any notion of how to turn off the current in the third rail of environmental collectivist politics, even if they wanted to … and it is not clear Bush really wants to do that, anyway.

To the credit of the administration, they have reversed field on Kyoto, thus signaling no intention to play along with the environmental socialists’ grand plan. But they have purposefully taken a pass on opportunities to make real and meaningful use of executive power in specific situations to demonstrate a more balanced approach to the environment, notably in the Klamath Basin.

Taylor: How can the current administration improve its handling of environmental issues? In what specific areas would you recommend changes?

Bishop: Stop affording environmental issues so much attention.

We must recognize that all political activism in this country–from the most authentic grassroots to the most highly sophisticated and paid lobbying–will be affected by September 11 for the foreseeable future. For the administration, the necessity will be forging a policy response. This at least is an opportunity to show they can build coherent policy.

Like Cheney’s efforts on energy, a program that has generally attempted to navigate environmental obstacles thrown up for the very purpose of gumming up the works of capitalism can respond to the events of September 11 in a forward-looking, intelligent manner rather than merely react to symptoms.

The approach of the administration cannot mirror Cheney’s embarrassment over who he consulted in crafting administration energy policy. He would not be embarrassed to say he consulted generals regarding military approaches to terrorism, anymore than he should be spooked by the idea that having consulted oil industry sources on oil exploration is somehow abhorrent.

Taylor: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is in the spotlight as a centerpiece of President Bush’s national energy policy. What are your thoughts regarding resource recovery in ANWR?

Bishop: Energy security is now a very real piece of the international terrorist puzzle. Short of occupying the Middle East, our economy will be shackled to our diplomacy to the extent that the majority of our oil continues to flow from areas subject to unpredictable bouts of Islamic fundamentalism (or dare I say all-too-predictable bouts).

The United States has innumerable resources at hand to support itself. Not only does Alaska hold plenty of oil and natural gas, but there is plenty even closer under the western public lands and offshore. A renewed commitment to using our own resources, combined with the will to leverage nuclear and other technologies, could supplant the energy confusion in our foreign policy.

Alaskan oil exploration is the signature policy decision in this realm, just as the World Trade Centers were a signature target in the terrorist realm. It is time to demonstrate that the United States can provide for itself … not that the United States is isolationist, but that its free trade is really part and parcel of exporting freedom.

Taylor: Do you see any drawbacks in the President’s national energy policy regarding private property rights and deference to local government?

Bishop: The obvious hot spot has been provisions in the President’s plan that provide condemnation authority for power-line easements.

If viewed in the context of the interstate highways–where we have generally accepted a federal role in laying down a transportation grid for goods, services, and people–the concept of a government role in creating the power grid is relatively unremarkable … even the contemplation of condemnation. The devil is in the details.

A hardcore market stance might backtrack to suggest the government shouldn’t have gotten involved in the interstates; they should all be private toll roads. With current strained budgets and the inability of government to contain construction costs as we maintain and improve the interstate system, there are models for privatization of highways both here and abroad; but even these are little more than public/private partnerships that ultimately depend on government to flex its regulatory and condemnation authorities on behalf of the private road contractor/owner. Thus, even operational privatization of the transportation grid doesn’t remove the government interest and attendant gerrymandering in property markets through condemnation.

That said, few in the property rights movement are in favor of rolling up the interstates and placing the underlying property back in the hands of its original owners–despite the fact that the pursuit of happiness for some was short-circuited during their construction.

Without regard to whether a more market-oriented strategy could have been employed, I accept the federal role in the interstates as central to commerce clause authority. The overwhelming benefit to society of creating a cohesive and universally open strategy for transportation across state lines was thus properly a federal prerogative.

At least during their first half-century, the interstates have created such a net benefit to our market system as to far outweigh the notion that free marketeers should have laid in front of the bulldozers.

Regarding power-line easements, the arguments are fairly similar … but some important issues remain.

One problem is the issue of equal access to the power grid. The Bush energy legislation, which would federalize some aspects of grid construction (principally acquisition of rights of way), does very little to address parochial energy problems. While everyone in the country would get an exit ramp from the power grid, very few would get an entrance ramp. This leaves the distinct possibility that federalizing the grid would not increase the supplier competition needed to improve efficiencies, better balance supply and demand, and provide for a truly market-based allocation across the grid.

Another problem is the potential for the federal government to abuse the rights of citizens who own property along proposed transmission lines. Process remains the key to making government condemnation of easements defensible. Some particular language has been proposed to add safeguards to the route selection process– specifically necessitating a choice among alternative locations which has the least impact on existing or potential uses of affected property owners.

The importance of property rights demands that these points be addressed … but the importance of energy security to the nation demands that ultimately no constituency create gridlock with respect to energy legislation.

Taylor: The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a landmark decision regarding private property rights and the environment involving your home state of Rhode Island. What are your impressions of the Palazzolo case?

Bishop: The mountain of technicalities the government erects regarding compensation for the taking of land never ceases to amaze me. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, they do themselves one better.

Anthony Palazzolo has been trying to develop that property for the better part of his adult life. He was repeatedly denied permission by the state and ultimately filed a takings claim … which found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court 39 years after his first application to fill the property.

During the trial in Rhode Island Superior Court, the state argued alternatively that Palazzolo’s claim was not ripe, i.e. not yet ready to be heard, and that the statute of limitations on his claim had expired. In other words, by the time the state would deign to permit you to file a takings claim, your right to make that claim has expired.

In another indignity, the state maintains Palazzolo’s proposed filling and use–either for homes or for a beach club–would be a nuisance, because the property is purported to filter 10 percent of the nutrient inputs to an adjacent salt pond.

In Palazzolo’s case, argued by Pacific Legal Foundation’s Jim Burling, the U.S. Supreme Court laid waste to the ripeness technicalities advanced by the state.

Palazzolo is now represented by the New England Legal Foundation, which defends property rights in the northeast and will attempt to see that his victory for all property owners at the Supreme Court level ultimately leads to justice in his own case, and a further advancement of property rights in general.

For more information …

on Anthony Palazzolo’s property rights case, contact the New England Legal Foundation at 55 Union Street, Boston, MA 02108, phone 617/695-3660.

For more information on the Alliance for America, visit its Web site at