Worth ReadingJane Chastain
It's not enough that Barack Obama and the Democrats want complete control of health care, the financial system and the air above â€“ now they are advancing a bill that will control the land beneath our feet.
You can forget the property provision of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution and tear up any deeds you may now possess. If this bill passes, that property you own won't be worth more than the paper those deeds are written on unless you have the blessing of Big Brother's bureaucrats.
The bill in question is the Clean Water Restoration Act, most recently renamed in the House of Representatives "America's Commitment to Clean Water Act." How patriotic and sinister sweet it sounds!
What does the Clean Water Act have to do with property that may have been bone dry since Noah's flood? Everything, if the word "navigable" is stripped from the law.
The intent of the Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, was to protect the nation's waterways, navigable waterways â€“ the kind boats travel down â€“ from pollution. The protection of creeks and streams was left to the individual states. Over the years, over-zealous jurists and overreaching bureaucrats at the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Soil Conservation Service used the Act to expand their control to include wetlands.
What is a wetland?
Most reasonable people would say it is land that has at least a little water standing on it that includes reeds and other vegetation that water foul use to build their nests.
Not so! A wetland is simply the jurisdictional term of choice used by the federal government. It has expanded to the point that it has covered the occasional backyard mud puddle. And, the mud puddle in question didn't have to come from a natural source like an overflowing pond or even rain water; it could be created by a drippy hose or a broken sprinkler pipe.
Consider the case of Bill Lyons who built a little ranch near San Francisco on land he reclaimed from the desert. In 1990, a representative from Fish & Wildlife discovered some water in a low spot by a gate where his cows went in and out to pasture. There was no water anywhere for miles that didn't come from his well, but his property was declared a wetland.
In 1987, the definition of a wetland was so broad that if you dug down 18 inches and found moisture, not water, for seven days during the "growing season" you had yourself a wetland, and the government had the power to stop you from improving or, in some cases, using your land at all.
Needless to say, millions of dollars have been spent by countless private (and public) land holders like Mr. Lyons in the attempt to fight these onerous regulations.
Recent Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 attempted to rein in these excesses by reaffirming the existence of both statutory and constitutional limits on the scope of these regulations. However, the high court refused to wipe out the onerous wetlands regulations entirely. Instead, the Supremes said federal control only extended to those wetlands that have a "significant nexus" to the navigable waters of the U.S.
Unfortunately, the court didn't define "significant nexus." Therefore, the EPA and the Corps of Engineers held on to that 1987 regulation. Landowners are still twisting in the wind, and private property is still being "taken" through this regulation.
When these takings occur, a property owner is not compensated as is the case with "public domain." Instead, the property owner holds the title to the land and still pays the taxes on it, but the property owner cannot put that land to the use he or she intended. In some cases, the property owner cannot use the land at all.
Nevertheless, the radical environmentalists are not satisfied. They are leaning on their Democratic friends to pass this bill in order to strip the term "navigable" from the law. If that happens, the feds will go back to confiscating property with abandon.
Do the Democrats dare move forward with this legislation before the 2010 election? Many see the handwriting on the wall and want to push it through for fear they will lose their grip on the controls of Congress. They see this as their one big chance to gain absolute control of our land.
Find moisture, not water, on your property and you could be left with a tax bill for land you simply cannot unload or use. That will put us further down the path to Obamatopia.
Jane Chastain is a Southern California-based broadcaster, author and political commentator.