Property Rights Foundation of America®

Speech from the Eighth Annual New York Conference
on Private Property Rights


Restoring Constitutionality and Rationality
To Environmental Protection

Property Rights Foundation of America
Albany, New York
October 23, 2004
Becky Norton Dunlop
Vice President, The Heritage Foundation
(Prepared Text)


I. Principles under assault
  A. Moral
  B. Constitutional
II. Problem Areas
  A. Size of Government
    1. Budgets
    2. Regulations
    3. Bureaucracy
    4. Scope
    5. Congress
    6. Taxes — Estate/Property
  B. Education System
    1. Poor education in history, science
    2. Parental involvement, competition
  C. Judiciary
    1. Judicial Philosophy
    2. Your role in changing judiciary
  D. Growth of Local Governments
    1. Develop ownership society — homes, health savings accounts, personal retirement accounts
III. Potential Alliances
  A. Think Tanks
  B. Taxpayer Groups
  C. Education Reformers
  D. Congressmen
  E. All the other Property Rights groups
IV. Policy Initiatives
  A. No Net Increase in Federal Lands
  B. Tax Cuts and Elimination of the Death Tax

Restoring Constitutionality and Rationality to
Environmental Protection
By Becky Norton Dunlop

Thank you so much. I am delighted to be here. I am a great admirer of Carol LaGrasse. What a patriot! Thank you, Carol, for your leadership, your devotion to our liberties, and your tenacity in persevering for justice on behalf of so many people.

And, thanks to each of you for taking time to come to this conference. I know you are all very busy people and you have taken time from your schedules to come and be part of the network of people who care deeply about our country and our freedoms.

What a great program we have had so far…

Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you today. I am delighted to be able to talk with you about one of my favorite topics, property rights. In preparing for this talk, I reviewed a lot of literature — and it struck me how much good literature has been developed on this topic in the past ten years. Frankly, it was impressive to see so much good material. I thought for a moment about suggesting to Carol that we just pass out a current bibliography of all the good and recent material on Constitutional principles that permit better environmental stewardship, and we celebrate the growing interest, the greatly expanded body of work and the intellectual vigor now being applied but then I thought — nah — I'd rather talk to you, but I'll be sure to mention all this good work. (See attachment) This is something that we need to be grateful for since ten and fifteen years ago, we were losing our property rights and not much information was available about how we could go about reversing that loss and regaining those rights so not much was happening in defense of those rights.

My remarks today are organized as the Four P's: Principles that are under assault; Problem Areas that need restoration work; Potential Alliances; and Policy Initiatives.

As I begin my remarks for today, I was reminded of one of my favorite stories that President Ronald Reagan frequently told.

It is about a family with young twin children — one an optimist — the other a pessimist. The parents felt they needed to instill each of the kids with a more realistic view of life, and, after consulting with several "experts," embarked on their plan.

They filled one room in their house with toys and games and all the new electronic gadgets — for the pessimistic child — and a second room with an enormous pile of horse manure — for the optimistic child.

They took the children to the first room and opened the door. Both boys' eyes lit up with excitement. The parents told the pessimist that this was his room — and all that was in it was his. They ushered him in as he excitedly looked around and told him they'd be back later, to enjoy the toys!

They took the second child — the optimist — to the second room filled with horse manure and told him to go on in, that this was his gift and they would come back later to check on him.

Confident that their project had been successful, they returned to the first room in about an hour where they had left their young pessimistic son, in a roomful of toys that were all his.

To their amazement, they found him sitting in a corner crying. Approaching him, they asked what's wrong, why are you crying? The little guy responded through his tears, "Well, I know I'll have to share — probably give some back — and sooner or later the toys will break" and on and on with all kinds of "pessimistic" views about his room full of toys. This was NOT the success they had expected!

The parents rushed to the other room hoping their experiment was more successful with their young optimist who had been put in a room with nothing but a pile of horse manure. Opening the door, they peaked in; hoping the lesson that not all is good would have cured their young optimist.

Well, he was nowhere to be seen. So, they went in, working their way around the pile of manure looking for the youngster. On the other side, they found evidence of him — manure flying out from a hole dug into the side of the pile. Calling him to come out, they found a stinky and filthy but grinning and cheerful little fellow. "Why, pray tell, are you so happy — this is a pile of manure!"

"Oh!" he exclaimed with excitement, "with all this horse manure, there must be a pony in here somewhere!"

Well ladies and gentleman, I tell this story because like Ronald Reagan who was an optimist about our country, and like this youngster, I am an optimist! And I am confident that each of you here today could be convicted of being optimists about your country, because if you were not optimistic, you would not think that there was any possibility that we could restore or recover the rights that have been diminished. But you are here and you are engaged in the battle and for that we can all be thankful. As we look toward the future, I believe we can reclaim the liberties, rights and prerogatives of a free people. But we must be prepared to work hard and get our hands dirty digging in the manure pile!


The broad organizing principle I believe we need to focus on is this — environmental policies, which emanate from liberty are the most successful. I think we all agree with this.

Our chosen environment is liberty. Our forefathers fought a Revolutionary War to free the people in the colonies from the tyranny of the King and to provide liberty. Liberty is the central organizing principle of our country, the United States of America. It is our most cherished principle. Americans have fought and died for liberty through the years. To secure liberty, limited government was instituted in these United States.

Our Declaration of Independence is a statement of the conditions of legitimate political authority, the ends of government and the sovereignty of the people.

The Constitution was written as the governing document that would create the institution that would secure the "Blessings of Liberty" while limiting the power of government and assuring it would reflect the consent of the governed! No, the Constitution was not perfect — we have had to "fix" it particularly in the area of slavery but it was "little short of a miracle" in the words of George Washington.

And, let's be clear — property rights are an inseparable element of liberty. The Founding Fathers understood this — and viewed the protection of property as a primary purpose of government. Indeed, John Adams said, "Property must be sacred or liberty cannot exist."

Of course, we all know of the specific sections of the Constitution that discuss property protections and limiting government, being quite clear about when private land could be taken for public use, and what public use and requiring just compensation. These are, of course, some of the challenges that we are dealing with again today.

Now, allow me, if you will, moments to step further back in history and emphasize the point that there is a moral basis to this protection of private property. Judeo-Christian principles guided those who settled America and organized our new country. They knew of the Ten Commandments. One, you will recall, is "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's House" — pretty clear message there. And, of course, "Thou Shalt Not Steal!" Of course there are many other Biblical reference dealing with restitution of land and animals taken! In other words, there is a moral basis for what we are talking about today, a moral basis for property rights. They are granted to us by God. They are not given to us by the United States. So, we are talking about God-given rights that are to be protected by the constitution of the United States.

So, our challenge as a citizenry is to reclaim the moral high ground and the Founders' vision of liberty, especially as it relates to our natural environment. Freedom, as we all know, as we can observe, we can empirically know, unleashes forces most needed to make our environment cleaner, healthier and safer for the future. Free people work to improve the environment — in many spheres. But in particular, ownership inspires stewardship. The owners of private property have the incentive to enhance their property and to protect it. These lessons, my friends, are not well understood in our country today by many families, children and grandchildren, nor by many of those elected to serve the people in a variety of government posts.

*Private Property
*Due Process
*Speedy Trials (Tucker Act Shuffle)
*Just Compensation

These are constitutional principles that we have seen diminished in the name of environmental protection. America needs to restore the protection of these constitutional principles in order to assure rational solutions for environmental challenges in the future.

Problems areas

Now let's turn to some of the problem areas that need work in order to restore constitutional and rational environmental policies.

First of all, the size of Federal Government…the Founders' are not only turning over in their graves, I am certain they are spinning in their graves if they can see the size of the federal government these days.

Budgets are out of control. I am speaking not just about the deficit that has come upon us because of 9/11 and the battle against terrorists. I am talking about the size of the government and the other spending that has made the deficit huge. And, of course, every government dollar goes to pay for a government employee, run a government program or pay for a government contractor…all of which are seeking to impact our lives and our liberties.

Government regulations…run amok. And, they would be more out of control if there were not a great leader in the Office of Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) named Dr. John Graham. As bad as it has been in these recent years, John Graham has done wonders slowing and bringing some rational thinking to the mechanisms of government that seem to spew out regulations with great regularity. But even with his great work, it has not been enough to stem the regulatory tidal waves.

The Bureaucracy is growing. Some may recall the fanfare with which the Clinton Administration talked about reducing the size of the domestic bureaucracy. Well, that basically was a shell game. Using the "contracting-out" mechanism, they would contract out jobs like lawn-mowing and building security…a very good idea because one does not need to be a federal employee to carry out these tasks. But for every two positions they would shift to a private contractor, they would hire one person whose job would expand the federal role that extends its power and influence to infringing on your rights and prerogatives. What is needed is to return to the idea of the Founders' to limit the size of the federal government to do only those things that are specifically enumerated in the Constitution.

The Scope of government has grown. A bureaucrat in an environmental agency once told me that they were in charge wherever a drop of rain landed on the land…and of course, that's everywhere. And, I must say that that is exactly the attitude of many of the people who work in the bureaucracy. Now to give the bureaucracy some relief in a kinder and gentler phase here…I am quick to remind you that …

The Congress of the United States, your elected representatives, give them the budget, give them the authority to hire, and give them the laws that allow them to expand their scope of work. So as we express our frustrations with federal bureaucrats and their agencies about moving into areas that they should not properly be…or infringing on our human rights, our property rights, let's not forget that they are getting their authority from your elected representatives. We need to keep that in mind as a first target of opportunity for making change.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not discuss the problem of over-taxation. The Heritage Foundation is very active in seeking tax reform. We have done excellent work on the estate or death tax. "Estate Taxes: An Historical Perspective" is one Heritage document that I brought with me today. It discusses the negative effects on family businesses, for instance, and uses compelling charts and graphs to make the case that the death tax should be killed…dead. There are other taxes that need to be reformed as well. And, we must begin the enormous process of tax reform just as one might "eat an elephant," one bite at a time. Beginning with the complete and permanent elimination of the death tax would be one big bite toward restoring constitutionality and rationality to environmental policy.

A second problem area that needs our attention is education. Now you might ask why I would discuss education as a problem area when we are talking about restoring constitutionality and rationality to environmental policy. Well, the Education System in our country is a huge problem. You know, in some textbooks today, there are more references to Madonna than to George Washington. Students are learning more about Madonna, the material girl, than they are about the father of our country who willingly gave up power and returned to Mt. Vernon as a private citizen; and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and John Adams, and the Founders' Vision and the words of the Constitution that we have talked about here today. If they are not learning about these men and ideas in their classrooms, what possibly can we expect from the next generation? It is a great tragedy. Our children today, no, not every child, but most, most of the many in the public schools are getting a very poor education in history.

And they are receiving even a poorer education in science. You know it seems that the idea of science education today is to teach children that they should go to their state capitals and lobby for more dollars for environmental education. We need to shake up the education system in our country. If one really cares about our liberties, private property and the other issues that we are discussing at this conference, you must get involved in education reform. This is imperative if we are going to continue to have freedom in our future. We need to have competition in the school systems. That is why at Heritage we support parental choice in education. There are going to be public schools that are great…charter schools and private schools, too, and, yes, home schooling that is great. The best way to insure that every one of these areas improves is to assure that there is competition in education. I believe that if you did a poll in your own community today among all the various kinds of schools, you would find that the home schooled children had a better foundation in history and science than any of the other types of schools. So, my plea to you today is to look at the education system as an opportunity to restore constitutionality and rationality to environmental policy.
A third problem area is the Judiciary. Now, you may not be able to do anything directly about the judiciary but your vote for President will tell a lot about the kind of judiciary you want, activist judges who make laws or judges who apply the constitution as it is written in interpreting the laws. No, you may not have an individual voice on judicial appointments, but how you vote will make a difference in what the judiciary will look like in this next decade.

The fourth problem area I want to touch on is the growth of local governing bodies. The Constitution of the United States only talks about the federal government, the national government, and states and, now, of course, there are cities, counties, towns and other local governments. And, it seems like every time we turn around another taxing authority crops up. We must seek ways to reduce these myriad ways that governments concoct to reach into our pocketbooks and take more dollars for programs we don't need and more government that we don't want. In order to achieve this, I believe that…

We must advance an ownership society. It should be the goal of everyone here to encourage and assure home ownership for everyone that we know. People who own property care about what actions local governments take with regard to local residents and property owners. We need more citizens to own homes, and to own property so they are sharing our experiences. We need families and individuals to own their own retirement accounts so when we get rid of that death tax, individuals will have something to pass along to their family when they pass away. We need families and individuals to own their own health savings account so they are not dependent on their employer for health insurance giving them more freedom. This is all part of an ownership society. I believe that this will strengthen our communities. It will give individuals and families more incentive and opportunity, and time, to be aware of what is going on in their communities and be involved in their local government activities.

Potential Allies

Now, on to the topic of potential allies. Let me mention that Heritage produces every two years a directory called, PolicyExperts. Many of you may be listed in this book as experts; it can also provide to you the names of individuals and organizations that might be allies in your town or state. I would be delighted to send you a copy or you may just go online at You need to develop alliances with other people who at their core share your views about the Constitution. These would include other think tanks. I just came to Albany from a meeting in Texas of the State Policy Network, an association with think tank members in forty states. These organizations are similar to the Heritage Foundation and they work on policy issues in their respective state capitals. Some of those issues may be the very same issues as those that concern you. Public Interest Legal Groups exist all over the country and many of them do property rights work. You need to be in contact with those in your state or get to know those in the neighboring states so that you can take advantage of their expertise. Taxpayer Groups. Governments need taxes to engage in their activities. Taxes to governments need to be limited so you and your family can have more of your hard earned dollars for your priorities and so that government has fewer resources to engage in actions that we would consider inappropriate. So, do get to know the people who have set up these taxpayer groups…you have a lot in common with them. Education Reformers. We have talked about education reform and there are groups of parents working on this issue all over the country. Not only should you get to know the education reformers because we need to work together to reform education but the people in this room are exactly the people that need to be making presentations in classrooms in the local school on private property rights. You can talk about the Founder's Vision and our Constitution.

And, then of course, our Congressmen. We have got to do a better job of communicating with our Congressmen. Many of our Congressmen could be champions for our cause if they had a better understanding of our challenges, issues and ideas. Unfortunately, when our elected representatives get to Washington, the special interests and lobbyists, the pressures of the Congressional workload, and the expansive Congressional calendar that keeps them in Washington and away from their districts and their constituents often overwhelm them. They need to hear from you. If you are a supporter of a Member of Congress, take the time to contact him or her and let them know of your interests and concerns. If you know that your representative cares about our issues, organize a group of talented folks to help train him up to be excellent in his dealings with the media, effective in his dealings with others and a champion willing to come and speak at conferences like this. It is the United States Congress that controls so many of the issues that we are dealing with at this conference. We need to get control of the Congress with Members who recognize that we expect them to carry out their Constitutional duties and limit their activities in other areas.

Of course, there are also lots of other property rights groups and we must do a better job of identifying them, networking, and bringing them together to better know each other. Other users of natural resources are also an important part of our coalition and we need to do better outreach to them. Users of the natural resources have a vested interest in insuring that these resources are always plentiful and available. It is not logical to assume that users of natural resources want to destroy the very basis for their livelihood. It is true, of course that there are many government programs that encourage bad actions relative to the environment and we do need to get those programs changed. But, foresters, miners, farmers: these groups seek ways to enhance the resources so that they can continue to benefit from the continuing use of those very resources. They are our allies in the very battles in which we are engaged and we do need to build relationships with them.

We also must build better relationships in the media and develop some champions there. I strongly encourage you to get to know the media personalities in your town and just establish a personal relationship. There are many young people going in to the media now who do share our views about the Founders' vision for our country. We need to be able to support their work by making certain they have material that they can use to produce good copy for their newspapers or produce good shows for radio and television.

Policy initiatives

Finally, I mention policy initiatives. I am not going to talk about a lot of policy initiatives because you are the experts in this area. You know what you need in your states and you know what needs to be fixed in Washington. But, I do want to mention one idea that property rights people all over the country need to adopt and champion in Washington in ways that will be successful. And that is: No net increase in federal land. The appetite for new federal lands seems insatiable. Now, this does not mean that government will not seek to buy land in your area but our goal must be that if they are to buy land that they deem important to be added to the federal estate, that they return to the private sector land a comparable amount of land that the federal government owns elsewhere. The amount of land that is owned in the United States by government is greater than that owned by any other country on earth. It used to be the Soviet Union that had such a distinction. Now, it is the United States. This is not a good thing for the future of our country. I implore you to get involved in the tax battle. This is going to be on the Congressional agenda when they return next year. They are going to make decisions about whether to extend the tax cuts and eliminate the death tax. Keep the money you earn. You will spend it far more wisely than will the federal government.

Finally, with respect to Political Action Committees, I do encourage you start one. And, if you choose not to take on this challenge, get involved with one that shares your views. There are quite a number and you just need to make certain that the one you choose is one that supports candidates who care about your principles and ideas.

In closing, I return to the principle of environmental policy that I stated at the outset. "Environmental policies that emanate from liberty are the most successful."

We believe this. It is truth. We — you — understand this. You have taken up the mantle of keeping this flame burning brightly, not only here in the United States but around the world. Property rights is becoming a much more prevalent issue in emerging democracies. Our country owes you a great debt of gratitude! I thank you for using your time and talent and your resources to assure that we as a country and as a free people will be successful in restoring constitutionality and rationality to environmental protection.

Thank you and God bless you all.

Environmental Resources

Some Websites

Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.
American Land Rights Association
Defenders of Property Rights
Heartland Institute
Pacific Research Institute
Political Economy Research Center
ALEC (Sandy Liddy Bourne)
Reason Foundation
Cato Institute
Competitive Enterprise Institute
NCPPR Ten Second Responses
The Heritage Foundation
National Center for Policy Analysis
The Fraser Institute
The National Wilderness Institute
American Enterprise Institute
Pennsylvania Landowners


For Experts

Policy Experts



Clearing the Air by Becky Norton Dunlop,
Insider, published by the Heritage Foundation at
Environment and Climate News, Heartland Institute
Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, Pacific Research Institute
Environmental Federalism, Edited by Terry Anderson and Peter J. Hill, contact PERC


Becky Norton Dunlop, 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002
Contact me if you need further information or particulars. Becky Dunlop

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