June 5, 2000
CARA: Environmental Protection or Destruction?
When the House of Representatives recently passed the "Conservation and Reinvestment Act", better known as CARA, it took a big step in the wrong direction. This legislation allows the federal government to get further involved in the real estate business by owning more property.
I believe the federal government should be selling off many of its real property holdings. Efficient land use, as well as constitutional government, would suggest the federal government already owns far too much real property.
Still, some of the most radical environmentalists remain convinced that the only way to protect green space is for government, particularly the federal government, to own more and more land. This is an ironic point of view, because countries that have had the most government regulation of property, such as the former Soviet bloc nations, have had the absolute worst records of environmental quality.
In the CARA legislation, some non-tax revenues, such as those from oil drilling leases, would be used to mitigate problems resulting from the drilling. However, areas without any such damages were still expressly earmarked for pork-barrel spending projects.
These funds are being separately dedicated and taken off budget so Congress will not have to do annual appropriations with them. This scheme is bad for two reasons. First, it allows the Executive Branch to have powers that are Constitutionally directed to Congress. So this bill not only diminishes private property, it also erodes the Constitutional separation of powers. Furthermore, this off-budget scheme will not amount to anything approaching a true trust fund. Time and again, we have seen government raid trust funds to pay for spending measures for which those funds were never intended. The most glaring example of this is the raiding of the Social Security trust fund. However, highway funds, airport funds and others are also regularly raided to pay for foreign aid giveaways and other pork.
CARA not only necessitates the creation of a trust fund to engage in activities which are not authorized by the Constitution, it also promises to have a negative impact on property rights in general and on the environment Congress is claiming to protect. If we are truly interested in providing better land management and environmental stewardship, we should get the federal government out of the land management business. As the recent uncontrolled burns of Los Alamos show, there is literally no end to the possible ways the federal government can mismanage environmentally sensitive lands.
I have introduced legislation to take a project in my district out of federal hands and place it with agencies in Texas. Of course, the executive branch has stalled it every step of the way. When the federal government begins to micro-manage affairs that belong at the state and local levels, it is nearly impossible to stop. Unfortunately, this CARA bill will give federal agencies much more control over real property. Once people see the folly of this bill, it will be too late because the federal bureaucracy will be in control. Now I can only hope that my colleagues in the Senate will stop this terrible legislation from becoming law.