Longform

GIVE ME THAT OLD-TIME CONSTITUTION

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Platt also retained Wyoming takings attorney Karen Budd--who used to share the lecture circuit with Wayne Hage on behalf of the National Federal Lands Conference--to represent him in a takings claim against the Forest Service on leased grazing land in Utah. Because of drought, the Forest Service asked Platt to temporarily keep his cattle off certain plots. Platt argued that it was a taking, but by the time the case came to court, the Forest Service had already lifted the stay. He worries that soon Arizona state environmental regulations will dictate every detail of how he runs his ranch here--how I run my feedlot, where I dispose of manure--even on his private property. And it rubs raw.

@rule:
@body:Private property, says Wayne Hage, ". . . is the most important of all civil liberties, because without the ability to accumulate wealth, the private citizen has no way to protect himself from a totalitarian government." To his rancher's mind, somehow, environmentalism becomes an arm of that impending totalitarianism. "People are waking up to what the environmental movement is about," Hage rants. "It's nothing but a means to end all property rights. It has nothing to do with protecting air and forests. It's about control of the resource base--to concentrate it in the hands of certain international corporations and the big government that deals with big enterprises."

Their power and money, he feels, come from urbanites with bucolic escapist fantasies. "You look at the guy who lives in smog-filled Los Angeles surrounded by crime and he can't go outside, or the poor guy in New York who can't get a drink of water," he says. "You look at the poor guy in Detroit where the city is falling apart. They get a brochure from the Sierra Club saying, 'This beautiful area is going to be destroyed by some rapacious mining company or, worst of all, grazing.' How can he not send in his $15?"

There may be some truth to that vision. The environmental extremists would deny that the nation consumes the beef, needs the wood and paper and minerals that come from Western resources. And despite environmentalists' accusations that the land-use contracts extractive industries hold amount to industrial welfare checks, those industries are pushed to the wall economically. They see their oppressors as urbanites forcing regulations on businesses they don't understand. There is certainly irony in Eastern urbanites denouncing overgrazing in the name of environmentalism, when the closest they've been to a ranch is the cowboy boots and hats they wear as a fashion statement.

The extractive industries, however, refuse to admit that their operations constitute any environmental threat. And rather than adapt to changing times and diminishing resources, their response is to force legislation that says, "Let me do what I want or pay me not to."

The battle lines form, fueled by the cloudy logic and rhetoric on both sides. "I think it's going to be a classic political struggle, and I don't know who the winner's going to be," says Mark Killian.

Wayne Hage thinks the struggle will be more than political. "If we can't work it out in the legal system," he says, "it could eventually translate into lawlessness and violence.

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Michael Kiefer