MediaWatch: March 1992

Vol. Six No. 3

Greens See Red


Time Senior Writer Eugene Linden, one of the magazine's regular storm troopers for Mother Earth, complained in the February 3 issue about the dangers of recognizing property rights: "Advocates for the wise use movement have come up with some pretty loopy ideas...But one of their radical notions has been getting a friendly hearing from the courts, Congress and the Bush Administration."

What is this radical idea, that Linden feared "could ultimately cost state and federal governments billions"? Compensating property owners when governments devalue their land through environmental regulations such as the EPA's wetlands policies.

Linden dreaded the Supreme Court's coming decision in Lucas vs. South Carolina Coastal Council. Developer David Lucas bought two beachfront lots in 1986 for more than a million dollars to build two houses. Two years later, the state forbade any building on his property, declaring it was too close to the ocean. The court will decide: must the state reimburse Lucas for devaluing his lots?

Linden dismissed the loss: "A broad decision by the Supreme Court would be disastrous for the principle of environmental regulation." That "principle" is that the government may rule over property without paying a penny. Opponents of that "principle" cite the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights. But Linden warned: "Some conservative legal theorists and their supporters within the Administration would welcome a reinterpretation of property rights that would also open the way to eviscerating health, safety, and zoning as well as environmental regulations."