Property Rights Foundation of America®

Reprinted from the Proceedings of the Third Annual New York Conference on Private Property Rights (PRFA 1998)

Shaky Foundations - The Exaggerated Basis for Environmental Land-Use Controls
Jay H. Lehr, Ph.D.
President, Environmental Education Enterprises, Inc., Columbus, Ohio

My job this morning is to set the tone for this conference and describe to you the environmental underpinnings of the battle that you all fight. I have thirty minutes to convince you that your time today and the time that you put into this important issue in recent years has been worthwhile despite the fact that there have perhaps been more losses than gains. I want to convince you that you're going to need some portion of every day for the remainder of your lives battling the injustices that Carol described to you a few minutes ago.

It is known that the founding fathers who wrote our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence suffered greatly for their wisdom and their long-sighted view. Most of them ended up losing what money they had, often losing their families, often losing their lives. The battle for freedom, the battle for individual rights is a never-ending battle and we are in the middle of a resurgence for socialism and central government control that wishes to eradicate all of your rights and in greater strength than we have seen in many a decade, in greater strength than Stalin had in Russia or Hitler had in Germany.

I'm going to describe to you the state of the nation's environment. The marvelous job that our nation has done in righting wrongs of ignorance in fouling our environment and now thirty years later bringing it to its cleanest and safest condition in man's history. I'm going to describe to you a number of the unfounded theories. I'm going to close by describing just who we are battling and the nature of the enemy.

Although a famous cartoon strip of years ago, well noted through a statement that is often related environmentally, that we have faced the enemy and it is us, I'm going to tell you the enemy is not us and the enemy is awesome and powerful and must be respected. I'm going to describe it to you to try to heighten your conviction to continue what you're doing.

The most disturbing thing that I see as I look around this audience and at those up here at the front table is our average age. We are an old group of citizens who value our freedoms. There is sadly lacking among us enough young people to carry on our battle to preserve property rights and individual freedom. Part of what we need to do is to re-instill in young people what we see so wonderful about this great country founded on freedom and liberty for all.

I am given tremendous confidence by the movie and saying about six degrees of separation. Everybody is connected to everybody on Earth by no more than six contacts. That tells me that each of us, as we go out each day and we spread the word that we know to be true and the new information that I will reinforce for you here this morning, therefore holding the hope that freedom will live.

Before I go on to the main content of what I want to tell you about the environment I need to tell you a little more about myself because it's critically important that you see in every word I say great credibility, that everything I say is true, you can take it to heart and carry it to your friends, your neighbor and your colleagues. I have been an environmental scientist for over 44 years. I started with the U.S. Geological Survey in Long Island, New York, where I understand a number of you in the audience are from. I have probably one of the first Ph.D.'s in the nation in environmental science. I helped to write every piece of federal environmental legislation this country has between 1965 and 1987. I can show you working papers where I wrote, physically, sections that remain unchanged in the Water Pollution Control Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act, the Toxic Substance Control Act, and yes, even Superfund. I am not ashamed of having played that role. By World War II, we were ignorantly fouling our nests. We did not know any better. It wasn't anybody insidious or malicious at work. It was ignorance. We needed a safety net to insure that our economic prosperity did not destroy our garden. The job we have done has been magnificent.

I travel the country now, giving a series of seminars I call "Our Clean Environment, a Great American Success Story." I'm going to tell you a little bit about that in not many minutes. But more important than that, I need to tell you that I am a "bleeding-heart liberal." I'm not a "John Bircher." I'm not a "right-wing conservative." I consider myself socially liberal to the left of Ted Kennedy. I care about people. I'm concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency admits that, at the very least, they have to spend $7.6 million to perhaps extend the life of a single citizen in America by one year. And then if you look at a variety of environmental regulations individually, the various laws that control the use of hazardous substances, you will find that it costs hundreds of millions of dollars to extend the life of a single American citizen by one year. We know for sure that $19,000 spent on medical intervention will extend the life of an American citizen by one year. We know $3,000 spent on safety intervention — street lighting, guard rails, and the like — will extend the life of an American citizen one year. In the Third World, we know that $100 spent on diphtheria vaccinations will save a life, $500 spent on malaria will save a life, $1,000 on measles will save a life, $12,000 on sanitation in the Third World will save a life, and $5,000 spent on diet will save a life.

I am a bleeding-heart liberal. I want to see public funds spent where others will become as fortunate as I in leading a long and healthy life. I do what I do perhaps because I think I'm the luckiest human being alive. I have not been blessed with a great deal of money but I've been blessed with health, a positive mental attitude, an intellect which can decipher right and wrong, a career which has been extremely rewarding. I want to give back.

I see around me the usurpation of my professional career as an environmental scientist by people who don't give a damn about the environment, who don't give a damn about people, but cleverly figured out that environment was a marvelous cover to pursue their social agenda.

So let me now tell you and reinforce for you information you already suspect to be true. First let me cover the area of the issues that are so critical here in New York State, in New England, and, of course, all across the country — three simple issues — wetlands, forests and endangered species.


When I was a kid, we knew wetlands as areas that bred mosquitoes and we eradicated them and filled them in and used them for more useful ends. Somewhere along the line it was recognized that wetlands created an ecological environment that is particularly advantageous to a suite of plants and animals that have value and that they need to be protected rather than eradicated. President Bush was persuaded that he could make political gains by supporting that issue, and he was famous for the saying that there will be no net reduction in wetlands. Well, there is no longer any net reduction in wetlands. We have totally eliminated the overrunning of our wetlands for economic activity. It is not an environmental concern. There is no net loss of wetlands whatsoever anywhere in this country and, of course, as you all well know, the pendulum had swung way out of balance. When we were children, we knew a swamp was a glen, a fen. Those were obvious to us. Now we are told that "wetland," literally, is where one might spill a bucket of water in a tire and create some damp environment that a bird comes down and sits on for a moment and we can no longer use that wet tire to farm or whatever we want. That land is taken away from us, and that's why we're here talking about property rights.

Endangered Species

Here in New England and the Adirondacks, Carol alluded to that we're now protecting the rattlesnake. God knows, I worked all over the West as a geologist and we shot them, we beat them, we killed them at every turn. They were not friends, they were enemies. I was so scared of rattlesnakes. I was on a geology crew working in Wyoming one summer with some close, quote, "friends" whose greatest joy in the hot sun was killing a rattlesnake in advance of the path they knew I would take, then coiling it up on a rock ledge that I would go by to totally destroy my day. Because when I went by that, I didn't know "dead rattlesnake," I just turned white and was useless for the rest of the day. We were a little older than children and children can be cruel. And yet today we are protecting things like rattlesnakes.

The Endangered Species Act is one of the most terrible pieces of legislation in the whole environmental area. The way you need go about fighting the Endangered Species Act is to recognize that our Founding Fathers wrote the Third Amendment to the Constitution to protect us against the Endangered Species Act. (I see a lot of puzzled faces out there.) Go back and read the Constitution and the Amendments. The Third Amendment to the Constitution says that no citizen can be forced to quarter a soldier without consent, and we should be smart enough to know that if we were at war the government could not bring soldiers in to our homes to quarter them. Today the Endangered Species Act says the government can come to you and say there's a bullfrog, a rattlesnake, a mosquito, a snail darter, a spotted owl on your property and you must take care of it — shelter and quarter it and not use your property as initially intended.

It is an insidious piece of legislation and it should be recognized that the evolution, the development and the death of species has been going on since the beginning of time and that , I believe, since man came along, we have interfered with nature and we're having less demise of species rather than more. Yet, it is used as a bludgeon of individual property rights in the name of protecting all of God's species when it is the natural order of species to come and go. The Endangered Species Act must be fought. It will probably be reissued, resupported, with very little change, in this Congress.


The third issue that is used to beat you over the head and shoulders is the decline of the American forest. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is the American forest not declining, it has never been healthier. In the last twenty years, forest growth in America has increased twenty percent. Last year, the amount of wood that we harvested was 37 percent less than the amount of wood we grew. Since 1920, forest growth in America has tripled.

The Environmental Movement

Let me tell you about the environmental movement of which I'm so proud. When I was a kid I lived on the Hudson River not far from here, right across the bridge from New York City, the George Washington Bridge. I watched it become a sewer. I moved to Ohio in the early sixties and I was there outside of Cleveland when the environmental movement began.

Most of you will recall when I tell you precisely when the environmental movement really kicked off. You'll remember. It was a railroad car carrying molten steel from a U.S. Steel plant in Norwalk, Ohio, across the Cuyahoga River on a railroad trestle. A spark flew out of the railroad car, landed on the Cuyahoga River, and the Cuyahoga River caught fire. It was so full of industrial grease and oil that it took one spark to light it aflame. It made the headline of every paper in America in June 1968 and the real environmental movement was born.

At that time walleye fishing in Lake Erie was on the decline and Lake Erie, which had been a great recreation area, was a mess.

Today you can sail down the Hudson River and enjoy wonderful recreation activities on, again, a beautiful waterway. Today you can go to Lake Erie outside of Cleveland and catch record numbers of walleye. Our surface waters throughout the country have recovered. The job is not over. We still have to make sure that industry doesn't dump their waste into our waterways. We still have to protect them.

Here let me tell you what I do for a living. My primary profession is running an organization called Environmental Education Enterprises which teaches 85 advanced technology environmental science and engineering short courses to full-time environmental professionals. We travel all over the country teaching courses that relate to geology, biology, chemistry, computer science, risk assessment and so on, and I don't expect our country to ever go out of business. There will always be a need for the environmental science community. The job of cleaning and protecting our environment will never be done. However, the need for people in our profession today is one-third what it was fifteen years ago, because of our tremendous successes. Our surface waters have come a long way.

Our air

As a child, I travelled all over the country. I spent a good deal of time in Los Angeles and Denver, and breathing was difficult. I addressed a group about this size in Los Angeles a few months ago which I could only classify by a term you all know well, as "tree-huggers." I had no idea early on of whom I was talking to. It was my mistake, not doing enough research. Fortunately, it was a breakfast meeting and before I got to talk, they had a little discussion session started at each table of ten people (there were about 120 people there), and at my table, fortunately, I found out who I was with when our discussion started about the rain forest, and the loss of rain forest, and how terrible it was, and so on. I'll just out and tell you that anything you read about the rain forest, just discount 90 percent. But I found out that these people were as liberal environmentalists, though as well-meaning, as you could ever find.

So I tried explaining to them our successes and they didn't want to hear it. They wanted to hear more failures. I did a survey of the audience and I said I only wanted to talk to those of you who have been living here for thirty years. At least a hundred of them have. Well, I said, "How many of you will agree that the air in Los Angeles is 25 percent better than it was thirty years ago?" One hundred percent of the hands went up. "How many of you agree it's fifty percent better?" And one hundred percent of the hands went up. "How many of you will agree it's eighty percent better?" Ninety percent of the hands went up. So I proved to them that we haven't been standing still. We've made tremendous strides.

I see in the Rockies that when you come down from the Rockies there used to be a gray haze laying over the city. It's largely gone now. Our air quality has improved dramatically across America and will continue to improve. We don't need any new draconian air quality laws.

Our soil

We've really progressed far with part of our groundwater pollution and soil polluting problems. We now use agri-chemicals that biodegrade; we use them in very small quantities. We've found that there was not a non-point source pollution of our soil and our groundwater; it was a poor utilization of chemicals. People stored them so that they leaked, people washed their equipment so that they created a mess on the ground. People misapplied them on crops. We've taught the agricultural community how to use agricultural chemicals effectively to increase crops without polluting groundwater.

Our solid wastes

You all remember the garbage barge which plied up and down the Atlantic coast. People said, "Oh, my God, we're running out of space for solid waste."
Nonsense. That was a political problem. If you have stock in Waste Management, the nation's largest waste hauler, I feel sorry for you. That stock has just plummeted. Why? We have too much landfill space and tipping fees for putting stuff in landfills are getting cheaper and cheaper. We know how to build a landfill today that is light years ahead of the garbage dumps. When we were kids we went to abandoned rock quarries to dump our garbage into the ground. Today we put in plastic liners and clay liners, and leachate collection systems. We can put a garbage dump in your backyard that will pollute nothing. You may not want it, most people don't — not in my backyard. And yet we can even take kids in to float little sailboats on some of the ponds they build up. We can handle our solid waste forever. We have done a magnificent job.

But what are the unfounded fears now that are trying to keep you, citizens, the public, in mortal fear that the environment is going to hell now? Well, you all know what it is. It's ozone today. It deals with the climate. I'll tell you quickly that some smaller things are a joke.


Radon? We created a radon industry to protect us from radon. The University of Pittsburgh finished a five-year study last year proving conclusively that the higher the naturally occurring radon in your community the lower the cancer. That's exactly the opposite if what you're still hearing on the radio, on EPA commercials, and yet it is absolutely inarguable. We suspected this would be the case with our research following the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Obviously, if you were near the bomb, you died right away; if you were a little further away, you died of cancer a few years later. If you were a little further away, you died of cancer ten or twenty years later. And if you were a lot further away and got a little radiation, but not much, you ended up having a greater life expectancy and a lower cancer rate. We expected that the lower radiation was good and that's what it turned out was right.


The asbestos removal was one of the biggest jokes. We spent $200 billion taking asbestos out of our schools. Imagine how much our schools would have improved if we had spent that money on the schools' educational programs. We haven't saved a single life. In fact, all we did was put at risk the asbestos workers' lives when they pulled the asbestos out. However, again, we have an asbestos removal industry, just like we have a radon removal industry.

But today the big issues are global warming and ozone. I will conclude by telling you a little bit about it. I've brought some literature that I'll introduce right now so that you know what my company does. Just to show that I make a living as an environmental scientist helping clean the environment, I brought some brochures.

I brought a fabulous book. It includes everything that I've said. It's for children, called Facts, Not Fear. I've got a brochure where you can obtain that simple paperback, for less than $15.00. I've brought a little book called Hot Talk, Cold Fires. It's the final word on global warming. I have a brochure where you can get that. I've brought enough handouts on global warming. An editorial that was in the Wall Street Journal just a couple of weeks ago by Art Robinson tells the whole global warming story, which I will tell you very briefly.

Fossil Fuel Scarcity

First of all, let me preface it by telling you that in the 1970's the environmental community tried to control energy by telling you that we were running out of all fossil fuel. When it turned out that we are running out of nothing and that our resources are expanding dramatically as out technology finds additional gas and oil, as our technology to use our newer and more prolific raw materials improved (we went from steel to plastic to fiberglass, which we will never run out of), when it was recognized that we're not running short of any resources, we looked at the climate, and said that, well, we've got radiant energy, because the Earth is cooling.

Global Warming

Twenty years ago it was "global cooling." A new coming ice age was the way to scare the hell out of you and control energy. When it was recognized that we are probably not going into another ice age, then they turned around and said the Earth was warming and it was the result of fossil fuels, creating the greenhouse gases. Nothing could be further from the truth. We now have data that I can tell you right now that I couldn't tell eight months ago. First of all, we have 3,000 years of weather records, through refinements of technology. We know there have been five great warming periods. We're not even in one of them. We know that we had a little ice age three hundred years ago and that we're recovering from that ice age with a general warming. We know that over the last century, we had a net warming of less than one degree, that over the last fifty years we had a net warming of zero, and in the last eighteen years we've had a net cooling.

That is very different from what you may have read in the papers a few days ago, that the scientists show that the Earth clearly has experienced, during nine of the last eleven years, the warmest temperatures on record. Do you know where these thermometers were put, where they read those readings? In the middle of New York City, in the middle of Albany, in the middle of Philadelphia, and Baltimore. That data was taken entirely from a global thermometric network.
We launched a set of satellites many years ago to measure the temperature from space, away from city concentrations of heat. That tells us that for eighteen years we've been cooling. We also know that greenhouse gases have increased 20 percent since the turn of the century. The greatest part of that increase has been since World War II, the greatest part of that increase in greenhouse gases in the last eighteen years. Yet, the temperature of the Earth has declined in the last eighteen years. If the Earth is warming, it certainly isn't warming as a result of greenhouse gases. We know that definitely. But remember, the opposition can tell any lies they want, as long as they have a warm heart and in the end they're trying to protect society.

I'll tell you a little bit about what they're trying to protect. In my opinion, they don't care about people at all. It's a movement of socialists. It's a movement of centralized government. It is a movement of elites.

One more issue: ozone.

Before I tell you about ozone, let me tell you that the most important chemical ever created by man was DDT. The World Health Organization will tell you that we probably saved 500 million lives with DDT between 1940 and 1970. We outlawed it in the early seventies and hundreds of millions of people died of malaria, about one life lost every twelve seconds. We no longer have DDT to fight malaria. If we ration energy, we're going to throw people off the lower rungs of society. With the kinds of treaties that are being passed, if we limit greenhouse gases, we'll be killing a hundred people every twelve seconds.

Ozone is a total farce. Ozone has no impact on society. Cancer rates are not increasing. The skin cancer that comes from the irradiation that's theoretically protected by greenhouse gases is not increasing, and is, in fact, actually decreasing even though greenhouse gases are increasing. Ozone is chosen as a surrogate. It's all been done to control society, to take away individual rights.


I'll conclude very quickly by reading a paragraph from a book that I wrote with fifty colleagues and environmental scientists.

Five or so years ago, I determined that most of what I read about groundwater science was untrue. So I went around and talked to the top scientists in every environmental field and I said, "Are you seeing your work distorted?" They all agreed. I said let's get together and put together a landmark work on every issue of environmental science. It's called, Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns and deals with every environmental issue. These are fifty of the top environmental scientists, not the ones that give sound bites to the media, but those that are working away getting scientific evidence. I'm going to conclude by reading you a paragraph that defines the enemy in terms that maybe you don't want to hear, but it would be better said. This article was written by George Reisman, a professor at Pepperdine University in California. It concludes the book and it will conclude my talk.

"In my judgement, the 'green' movement of the environments is merely the old 'red' movement of the communists and socialists shorn of its veneer of science. The only difference I see between the greens and the reds is the superficial one of the specific reasons for which they want to violate individual freedom and the pursuit of happiness. The reds claimed that the individual could not be left free because the result would be such things as 'exploitation' and 'monopoly.' The greens claim that the individual can not be left free because the result will be such things as destruction of the ozone layer and global warming. Both claim that centralized government control over economic activity is essential. The reds wanted it for the alleged sake of achieving human prosperity. The greens want it for the alleged sake of avoiding environmental damage. In my view, environmentalism and ecology are nothing but the intellectual death rattle of socialism in the West, the final convulsion of a movement that only a few decades ago eagerly looked forward to the results of paralyzing the actions of individuals by means of 'social engineering' and now seeks to paralyze the actions of individuals by means of prohibiting engineering of any kind. The greens, I think, may be a cut below the reds, if that is possible."(1)

The only thing I disagree with is that I'm sadly afraid it's not their "death rattle." They're gaining on us. I'm speaking to the choir. Every one of you in this audience largely agrees with most of what I've said, but you'll all have to redouble your efforts in understanding the base instincts of the people we are fighting. Certainly not one hundred percent of the environmental movement, not even close to it, is described by that paragraph, probably less than ten percent. The rest are just willing followers and do-gooders. But a ten percent toxicity of the leadership is huge, remembering if we chase in health areas of our life parts per million and parts per billion of toxic element. What we have to do to chase one part per ten is going to be crucial in the coming years. We're going to have to double and triple and exponentially increase the number of people sitting in this room to fight this battle every single day if we're going to preserve the individual liberties that we all love so dearly. Thank you.

* * *

(1) George G. Reisman, "The Toxicity of Environmentalism," Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns, ed. Jay H. Lehr (Van Nostrand Reinhold, NY 1992) p. 836

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