By Dr. Michael S. Coffman Ph. D.
August 19, 2003

Few Americans realize that many of our federal environmental laws and regulations originate at the international level. These laws have a devastating affect on private property, stripping hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars of land value from rural citizens. Federal documents reveal that agencies have a greater desire to enforce these internationally born socialist laws than to protect and serve the citizens of the United States.

The Endangered Species Act, for instance, is authorized by a number of United Nations administered treaties, not on the enumerated powers of Congress given in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. These treaties include the Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Likewise, the RAMSAR Convention of Wetlands is the pattern for much of the federal wetlands regulation even though the Clean Water Act does not even specifically mention wetlands.

Federal agencies have used these treaties, and over 150 others like them, to control the use of private property, ostensibly for the “public good.” Over one hundred of these treaties were ratified after an unsuccessful five-year effort by Morris Udall and environmental organizations to pass federal land use control laws in Congress the early 1970s based on the 1972 publication of The Use of Land: A Citizen's Policy Guide to Urban Growth. It claimed that land is essential to human survival and that planning its wise use is the best tool to guide growth toward achieving economic benefits and protecting environmental quality. Laurance Rockefeller funded the publication, and William K. Reilly, who later served as EPA Administrator under George Bush, Sr., edited it.

Following the failed effort to achieve federal land use control through legislation in the U.S., the 1976 United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat I) was held in Vancouver and espoused the same principles as laid out in The Use of Land. For instance, the Preamble of Agenda Item 10 of the Conference Report states that:

Land...cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice; if unchecked, it may become a major obstacle in the planning and implementation of development schemes. The provision of decent dwell­ings and healthy conditions for the people can only be achieved if land is used in the interests of society as a whole. Public control of land use is therefore indispensable...." (Italics added)

Throughout this UN document the socialist model for private property rights are set forth as the basis for future United Nations policy:

Public ownership or effective control of land in the public interest is the single most important means of...achieving a more equitable distribution of the benefits of development…. Governments must main­tain full jurisdiction and exercise complete sovereignty over such land…. Change in the use of land... should be subject to public control and regulation…of the common good. (Italics added)

State control over private property has been central to every international treaty since the 1970s. The Convention on Biological Diversity, granddaddy of all land use control efforts, was introduced to the world at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June of 1992. Article 8 of this short, eighteen-page treaty requires that nations “regulate or manage biological resources important for the conservation of biological diversity.”

Translated, this means signature states must pass and enforce laws that limit land use activities that may cause harm to biological diversity within ecosystems — which includes nearly all land use activities. The publication of the eleven-hundred page 1995 UN Global Biodiversity Assessment (GBA) spelled out this idea and helped define how to write the implementing language for the incomplete treaty.

The GBA calls for property owners to: cede rights to some decision-making regulatory authority [because] resources are non-exclusive in their use: they are in the nature of local public goods.… Property rights can still be allocated to the environmental public good, but in this case they should be restricted to usufructual or user rights. Harvesting quotas, emissions permits and the development rights are examples of such rights.

This represents a blatant contradiction to the very intent of the U.S. Constitution — which the Founding Fathers designed to protect private property rights, not control them. Even so, the real danger of this treaty was its intent to place 30 to 50 percent of the U.S. into wilderness reserves and interconnecting corridors in order to protect ecosystems and biodiversity. This goal was exposed to the U.S. Senate mere hours before the ratification vote was scheduled, stopping its ratification — one of the few nations in the world to not ratify the treaty.

Even before the treaty came before the Senate for ratification, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had already developed a plan to implement the convention’s provisions. According to an EPA internal working document dated August 6, 1993:

Natural resource and environmental agencies… should…develop a joint strategy to help the United States fulfill its existing international obligations (e.g. Convention on Biological Diver­sity).… The executive branch should direct federal agencies to evaluate national light of international policies and obligations, and to amend national policies to achieve international objectives.

Shockingly, the EPA strategy called for federal agencies to evaluate national policies and to change them to conform to international objectives. Amending national policy is a Constitutional responsibility of the U.S. Congress, not the executive branch, and certainly not federal agencies. Yet certain bureaucrats believe their responsibility to international objectives superceded the U.S. Constitution and their mandate to serve the American people.

Although the U.S. did not ratify the treaty, the Clinton administration nonetheless implemented the Convention using the EPA strategy. The first of these involved 53 million acres of national parks and other lands registered within the 1972 UN Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, and UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program in the U.S. The management of these parks and reserves changed to meet the protocol contained in the Convention on Biological Diversity and similar UN treaties — rather than to serve the U.S. public.

Two other federal land-use control efforts that are highly significant are the American Heritage Rivers Program (AHR) and Vice Pres­ident Gore’s Clean Water Initiative (CWI). Both are the offspring of the biodiversity treaty and the UN Agenda 21. As has become the norm, the U.S. Congress did not vote on either program. Instead, President Clinton implemented them through executive orders. Agenda 21 is a 40-chapter UN document to reorganize the world around socialist, command and control regulation.

The CWI’s 1998 Clean Water Action Plan called for obliterating five thousand miles of roads every year on federal land, and setting aside a whopping "two million miles of conservation buffers on agricultural lands." The potential impact of this program is enormous. The Department of Agriculture’s Stream Corridor Plan calls for the width of these conservation corridors to equal a river’s 100-year flood plain, which could be many miles wide. Even a 100-foot buffer strip along two million miles totals seventy-six thousand square miles (forty-eight million acres), an area equivalent to the entire state of Nebraska!

Similarly, the AHR also makes it clear that the program will likely impact "entire watersheds" by a designation of just a portion of the river as an American Heritage River. Technically, the entire Mississippi River watershed, covering 40 percent of America, is now under the AHR program! In a giant step to impose federal land use controls, the CWI targets one-thousand watersheds as "critical rural watersheds" for special assistance to "comply with applicable standards" that are consistent with goals for "watershed and basin level planning."

Promoted as a plan to reinvent government, both the AHR and CWI are touted as "ground up, …community based" efforts under the control of local people. In fact, each step is under the top down control of the feds. By definition, a River Community under the AHR is "self-defined by the members of the community." In the CWI, it is called a Watershed Council. These councils are unaccountable to the people who are affected by their policy decisions. Yet, they have the power to withhold monies from communities that do not toe the federal line, while rewarding those that do.

The Clinton Administration carried out the concept of eco­system management was one-step further when it attempted to impose federal control over the entire Pacific Northwest when it attempted to impose the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project. If it is ever fully implemented, the federal government would control harvesting, mining, viewsheds and development on public and private land over the entire Columbia River basin from the Cascades to Canada in the north, to Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming in the east, to Utah and Nevada in the South.

These are but a few examples. Many, if not most, U.S. environmental laws, programs and regulations come from international treaties and programs. All of them convert Constitutionally - protected private property rights to state-controlled rights, ostensibly to achieve some mythical level of “sustainability.” By doing so, Hernando de Soto, in his illuminating book The Mystery of Capital, says the very basis for creating wealth is greatly diminished or destroyed. If strangling regulations encumber property rights there is little to no equity and therefore little to no capital with which to create wealth.

Ironically, only a wealthy nation can afford to protect its environment. By destroying private property rights, these internationally inspired laws and regulations are also destroying the very ability to achieve their stated purpose — to protect the environment!

© 2003 Michael Coffman - All Rights Reserved

Posted with permission by and the American Land Foundation.

Dr. Michael Coffman is president of Environmental Perspectives, Inc. and CEO of Sovereignty International Corporation in Bangor, Maine.



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