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Posts tagged "property rights"

Energy independence is a tough pill to swallow for America’s environmentalists (and many of my lovely readers). But, it is more closely regulated here than practically any other country on the planet. It’s not perfect (and I’m well aware of the consequences, thank you), but drilling and fracking in North America is comparatively cleaner and safer. Drilling at home does provide jobs (not as many as politicians claim), contributes to the economy, is an Obama campaign promise, and (generally) helps prevent oil money from going to nefarious groups in the middle east, Russia, and Africa.

This project shines a bright light onto an issue that nearly all Americans don’t normally experience. It also serves to force environmentalists to make better arguments.


Photographing the Invisible

Marcellus Shale Documentary Project is a collaborative effort by photographers to document the effects of fracking throughout Pennsylvania. Its director considers it a modern-day equivalent to the 1935-1944 Farm Security Administration mission that sent photographers across the United States to document the challenges of rural poverty.

A profile by the New York Times though gets to a singular difficulty: “The problem facing [the] photographers… is that what they wish to describe cannot be seen — an invisible gas buried deep underground.” 

Solution? Focus on people, places and processes. Via the Times:

The group’s photographs depict a heavy industrial process scattered across a rural landscape: amid miles of lush green forest or farmland, suddenly there is a shaved patch. Atop the clearing is a battery of drilling equipment: a tall derrick, bright klieg lights and lined troughs full of chemical wastewater. In some photographs, a long, steel pipeline snakes through the frame. In others, the flare from a drill rig lights the night sky. There are pictures of people, too: farmers who leased their land for drilling, homeowners with enough methane in their groundwater to light a tap on fire; and here and there, an industry employee.

Image: A natural gas pipeline under construction in Franklin Township, by Noah Addis, via the New York Times.

The solutions in this piece in The Atantic by legal scholar Jonathan H. Adler are not entirely different from traditional climate fixes put forth by advocates and climate scientists.

  • First, the federal government should support technology inducement prizes to encourage the development of commercially viable low-carbon technologies.  For reasons I explain in this paper, such prizes are likely to yield better results at lower cost than traditional government R&D funding or regulatory mandates that seek to spur innovation.

  • Second, the federal government should seek to identify and reduce barriers to the development and deployment of alternative technologies.  Whatever the economic merits of the Cape Wind project, it is ridiculous that it could take over a decade for a project such as this to go through the state and federal permitting processes.  This sort of regulatory environment discourages private investment in these technologies.

  • Third, I believe the United States should adopt a revenue-neutral carbon tax, much like that suggested by NASA’s James Hansen.  Specifically, the federal government should impose a price on carbon that is fully rebated to taxpayers on a per capita basis.  This would, in effect, shift the incidence of federal taxes away from income and labor and onto energy consumption and offset some of the potential regressivity of a carbon tax.  For conservatives who have long supported shifting from an income tax to a sales or consumption tax, and oppose increasing the federal tax burden, this should be a no brainer.  If fully rebated, there is no need to worry about whether the government will put the resulting revenues to good use, but the tax would provide a significant incentive to reduce carbon energy use.  Further, a carbon tax would be more transparent and less vulnerable to rent-seeking and special interest mischief than equivalent cap-and-trade schemes and would also be easier to account for within the global trading system.  All this means a revenue-neutral carbon tax could be easier to enact than cap-and-trade.  And as for a broader theoretical justification, if the global atmosphere is a global commons owned by us all, why should not those who use this commons to dispose of their carbon emissions pay a user fee to compensate those who are affected.

  • Fourth and finally, it is important to recognize that some degree of warming is already hard-wired into the system.  This means that some degree of adaptation will be necessary. Yet as above, recognizing the reality of global warming need not justify increased federal control over the private economy.  There are many market-oriented steps that can, and should, be taken to increase the country’s ability to adapt to climate change including, as I’ve argued here and here, increased reliance upon water markets, particularly in the western United States where the effects of climate change on water supplies are likely to be most severe.

Read the piece at The Atlantic

More wonderful results of not participating in your government. Factory farm lobbying to change laws to criminalize the public from reporting abuses.

Carry on.


In states across the country, legislation has been passed to keep factory farming practices away from public view, as well as the toxic chemicals used for fracking, and corporate tax disclosure off the books. So what’s behind these laws that let corporations, keep their secrets? Talk radio host David Sirota discusses.


Florida spaces, 1949.

(Steinmetz Collection)

Hundreds of dams across the US are candidates for removal. Dam removal restores river health, ecosystems, and habitat - all of which have economic benefits, such as increased property value and recreation opportunities.

LATimes solid piece on economic impacts of climate change. Sea level rise and other impacts will cut into tourism and tax dollars. Presents a massive sink hole for municipal infrastructure dollars. Couple this with the short-cycle, short-sighted nature of political “leadership,” and coastal cities and home owners are in big, big trouble. 

Rising sea levels could take economic toll on California beaches: A state-commissioned study by San Francisco State says erosion and storm damage by the advancing ocean over the next century could cut into tourism and tax revenue.

Photo: Homeowners along Broad Beach in Malibu have been building huge sandbag walls reinforced with truckloads of boulders to stem damage caused by rising seas and stormy tides. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

(via latimes)

The mark march of Progress… Natives lose 260 square miles of land to a hydro electric dam - that’s a reservoir roughly about the size of NYC’s land area. The article, which is worth a close read, notes that 100s of other land use rights cases may be thrown out as a result. Borneo is the third largest island in the world, and is rich in natural resources and rare plant and animal species. Its population and economy are growing quickly, and development pressures government to respond.

Interestingly, people do not have strong property rights in Indonesia. I found that the Malaysian Constitution is an amalgamation of English-colonial “common law, written law, syariah law and customary laws with the Federation Constitution as the supreme law of the land.” This means the law can be interpreted in countless ways - sometimes precedent prevails, sometimes modern interpretation of Muslim shariah prevails, etc. It’s a big mess.

Members of an indigenous tribe in Borneo lost a case in Malaysia’s top court Thursday challenging the state’s seizure of land to build a massive dam.

The verdict capped a decade-long legal struggle by a group of villagers who claim authorities in Malaysia’s eastern Sarawak state unlawfully wrested away land occupied by their ancestors for generations.

Source: Forbes

If you’re into it, the BBC covered this issue back in 1999. See, “Who owns Indonesia?" Pertinent quote,


Under Indonesia’s constitution, all land is owned by the state, ignoring traditional land rights.

Suharto enforced this law ruthlessly, as companies connected to his family and friends exploited resources like timber, gold and oil.

Americans have a tradition of torturing wolves, and that’s really the issue with removing wolf protection. The premise to remove protections is that wolves kill livestock. However, the USDA already compensates ranchers who raise livestock with insurance subsidies for every animal lost. There are private insurers that also compensate for livestock felled by predators such as coyotes and wolves. Further, there are many provisions in the existing ESA laws that allow ranchers to shoot on site wolves that demonstrably have preyed on their livestock.

Environmentalists have lost a battle because they don’t have the rebuttals necessary to overcome the very powerful culture and traditions of hunting wolves in the northwest. Historically, “hunters” put nails in wolves food, fed wolves slow-working poison, skinned them alive, broke their feet in traps and allowed them to slowly die painful deaths for days. It wasn’t just hunting, it was torture for sport. And it’s well documented. Now, supposedly, it’s just rifles and stronger traps.

I think it’s all bullshit, and I’m pro-hunting. Unless corrected, I accuse douchebags like these “family men” of shooting wolves just for kicks. I surmise they do it to preserve the “American” frontiersmen traditions, and not for protection of private property or livestock. It’s for the lulz…

See also, Wolf Hunting Techniques, here.


Are you free to be a wolf-killing American? The reintroduction of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains has gotten caught up in a culture war, James William Gibson reports in Earth Island Journal—and the controversy is not even necessarily all about the wolves. It’s about the big, bad government keeping a good man down. Read more …

Look at the below FAIL. To be sure, the notion of Smart Cities is (sort of) catching steam. But, as the below announcement demonstrates, promoters and sponsors have some serious PR issues to the point of cognitive dissonance. 


Open Source Cities

Citizen Urbanism. Ecological Design. Urban Planning.
Open Data and Collaboration for the Future of Cities.

Launching Q1, 2011. For more information:
info {at}

This is one example of an upstart launch FAIL by something called Open Source Cities. As a citizen, you should question everything and be empowered with knowledge before committing to this crap. Here’s how I questioned this project: 

The Open Source Cities website is “Launching Q1, 2011.” Click the link to see. Now, how many citizens know what “Q1” is? Not many. Nor, I assure you, do citizens give a spinning shit. Why do the proprietors of this website not know this? Because they didn’t bother to talk to any citizens

Also, the notion of “open source” is citizen driven. It’s by the people. It’s not sponsor driven. It’s not a for-profit endeavor. So why is this project edited by liberal elitists, and sponsored by some greenwashed server-hosting bs company, and NOT by actual citizens?? Again, click the link to see the sponsors. What gives?

(Note: I’m not criticizing liberal elites per se. I’m pointing out that you cannot have “open source” anything run by backslapping journalists and designers with no clue as to actual city planning. Nor can you run an “open source” project by a for-profit corporate sponsor who is obviously trolling to expand its customer base. To put in plainly, it’s not credible.).

Before I discuss property rights, let me rant about this this Q1 business. If, as these insiders assume, citizens care and even understand municipal fiscal clocks, by whose “Q1” clock are they referring to?? New York State’s fiscal year starts April 1st and ends March 31st. New York City’s starts and ends July 1-June 30. If you’re a regional planning agency, how do you square those two clocks with Brooklyn’s 2012-2015 fiscal planning clock? How do citizens interested in city planning understand and navigate these fiscal clocks? And why is this important? Open Source is silent.

There are 10,000 municipalities in the US, add thousands of counties operating under various state mandates, and all use different fiscal clocks. So, “by whose Q1?” is pretty solid question. There is a NYTimes reporter on this project, is this going by the NYTimes fiscal Q1 clock? Why? Why are they even using Q1? This shuts down conversation. Especially if you’re supposed to be ushering Joe and Jane citizens - who are hella busy - to get involved with city planning and economic development.

You cannot subsume knowledge on behalf of half-interested citizens. Not to mention there are hundreds (perhaps thousands?) of regional, quasi-public/private, private, not-for-profit, planning, housing and economic development agencies and organizations who also use different fiscal clocks. And on and on. You cannot use ‘Q1’ and escape being called out on weaselly designery elitism. 

Finally, where, of their sponsors, is Joe and Jane “citizen” in their “Citizen Urbanism” moniker? Architectural firms?! Pssssshh. I can’t even… I. I, I don’t… ARRGG!! 

This isn’t open source, nor is it citizen driven. It’s privatized, for-profit city consulting. Private organizations are grabbing tax payer dollars to ‘consult’ with cities for unproven economic development.

And don’t get me started on demographics - as in how are they going to represent my grandmother, who has no access to a computer? Or immigrants? Or the poor? Or expats? Or single moms? Or the creative class? Or 18 year old college freshman? These clowns have no demonstrable experience in city planning.

Why am I ranting? Because these crack pots are fucking with people’s property rights. These people are going to try to change zoning regulations and building codes and do so at tax payer expense and ride into the sunset with your money. It’s serious business. People’s property isn’t some fucking techie toy. Cities are not sand boxes to experiment in.

If they were, then these sponsoring organizations should take full responsibility for any economic failures they usher into fruition. They should contractually sign away liability, be immune to quasi-sovereign immunity claims, openly report under SEC rules, and be open to all causes of action. By taking responsibility for outcomes, their work becomes truly open and more carefully crafted. Importantly, they don’t leave citizens holding the short end of the stick, especially if a select few vote to change their neighbors’ vested property interests and investment-backed expectations based on something that comes out of this ill-conceived project. 

With such high stakes, to hide these things behind a mask of friendly assistance is pure bullshit to me.

What are they to you? 

(via envirolutionary)

Graffiti is officially dead.


Beautiful trailer for OUTSIDE IN, a film about the new MOCA show on street art, Art in the Streets

(via underpaidgenius)

Recorded, so watch when you want. Speaker’s presentations are posted, so you can blast through their ppts if you want a quicky. I think it speaks to the quality of the people at New England Wind Energy that they also posted a bibliography. These guys are thorough! Warning, it’s verrry wonky. Here’s a synopsis:

The New England Wind Energy Education Project (NEWEEP) hosted the first in a series of free webinars. The main topic of NEWEEP’s inaugural event was, “The Impact of Wind Power Projects on Residential Property Values” presented by Ben Hoen, consultant to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories. The session opened with a brief introduction of the New England Wind Energy Education Project, followed by an introductory discussion of, “Wind Power’s role in Achieving Regional Policy Objectives” presented by Heather Hunt, executive director of New England States Committee on Electricity. The webinar included a question and answer session. This was a free webinar funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Wind Powering America Initiative. The webinar was designed for attendance by the general public, local officials, facility siting decision makers, policy makers, and others interested in a review of objective information on the impacts of wind energy.

A move that could backfire, Virginia votes 35-5 to restrict local governments’ ability to develop its land. This top down, legislative act has the strong support of the GOP, the Tea Party, and the Family Foundation, among others.

The issue is being framed to prevent abuse from local governments, who, they say, have been using their Constitutional right to take land from private citizens to benefit private companies. For example,

  • Roanoke, VA seizing a building that belonged to the owners of a mom-and-pop flooring company so it could turn the property over to Carilion, a billion-dollar health-care corporation (background, here)

"Abuses" such as the above are extremely rare, and are usually a result of a city’s publicly voted-on master or redevelopment plans. Usually eminent domain is innocuous business - widening a road, building a school, making a park, protecting riverbanks, etc. But condemning blighted, dangerous, or unused property usually catches the headlines - pitting an old lady vs a big corporation and the big, bad scary government. 

People do not have full “rights” to their property. They cannot do what they want with it, and have to ask government for permission to do just about anything. It’s why you don’t find restaurants in people’s basements, strip clubs next door, or gas stations in anyone’s backyard. Want to add an additional room to your home? Restricted. Want to turn your home to a 7-11? Nope, can’t do it. Want to mine that vein of coal under your front lawn? You don’t own it. In most cases, you can’t even dig a hole without doing some type of survey work. (for a stronger, law oriented defense, see here.)

Still, property rights advocates are all over this move in Virginia as if it’s some type of major win. It’s not. I think it will cost local governments millions in future litigation, and cost the state thousands of jobs from companies moving elsewhere… 

From The Property Rights Alliance

Virginia Senate Moves Forward on Eminent Domain Reform
Friday, February 25, 2011 3:37 pm | By Kelsey Zahourek 

This week, the Virginia Senate came one step closer to enacting true reform that would end eminent domain abuse in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In a 35-5 vote, the Senate approved a constitutional amendment that would redefine and limit the public uses for which private property may be confiscated by the government. Eminent domain is still allowed under this legislation for traditional public uses, such as schools and transportation projects for the state of Virginia, but the state would be required to fully compensate the owner. Eminent domain for the purpose of private economic development would be prohibited under the amendment.

In a Richmond Times Dispatch op-ed, A. Barton Hinkle made the case for why reform is needed in Virginia by offering a few cases of abuse that involved:

•Roanoke seizing a building that belonged to the owners of a mom-and-pop flooring company so it could turn the property over to Carilion, a billion-dollar health-care corporation.

•Norfolk trying to seize the property of Central Radio so it could hand the land over to Old Dominion University.

•VDOT trying to cheat a small day-care owner out of just compensation — and spending more on lawyers to fight the case than it would have shelled out by paying her original asking price.

The 2005 Kelo v. City of New London decision by the Supreme Court provided local governments the unrestricted opportunity to take homes and small businesses for private development. Following this court decision, legislation in both Congress and state capitals around the country has been debated on what the proper role of government is with regard to the use of eminent domain.

This is just the beginning of the process to enact reform in Virginia. For an amendment to be added to the constitution, the amendment must pass the General Assembly twice with an election in between and then go to a vote of the people through the referendum process.