Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2012 10:00 AM
By FRANK PRIESTLEY
For the Capital Press
Legislation that infringes on or compromises the rights of private property owners is viewed by our organization as government overstepping its authority.
Private property rights are the bedrock of liberty and are central to the principles and beliefs we hold most dear. If the heavy hand of government is allowed to meddle in this area our democracy becomes uncertain.
Matters pertaining to private property rights are often overshadowed by more visible issues. Consider the proposed moratorium on wind energy development, House Bill 561, sponsored by Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls.
Some people may think windmills are ugly or distracting. Others argue that wind energy isn't reliable or that it may be contributing to rate increases. The two major electric utilities in southern Idaho have made it clear that they don't like windmills because wind power makes managing energy transmission more difficult. All of these points are valid and they provide an illustration of the difficult politics of our time.
In our opinion, the bottom line on development of wind energy is if the Legislature decides to enact a moratorium, it will have taken away the rights of private property owners to lease or sell their land for wind development. The problems this legislation proposes to solve are evident but it remains an example of a government entity meddling where it shouldn't.
Legislation that would provide uniform, statewide oversight of oil and natural gas development in Idaho is in a similar situation. In our opinion, regulations should be set and overseen by the state to enable development of natural resources and to allow landowners to manage private property to its fullest potential.
Yet, some legislators, county commissioners and others believe regulating oil and gas development should fall under local control. While a valid argument, local control of resource development would likely result in regulations that are inconsistent from one county to the next. Another concern is some counties could make regulations so onerous it would effectively ban development of oil and gas.
Oil and gas are state resources much the same as water, wildlife and other minerals. Inconsistent regulations will cause oil companies to seek more business-friendly states to do business in. And, more importantly, changes to this legislation will diminish opportunities for private landowners to allow development of these important natural resources.
Legislation prohibiting the use of eminent domain to develop a recreational path along the Portneuf River in Pocatello is another important, yet controversial matter that should be handled carefully. A community nonprofit organization is bent on condemning private property along the Portneuf River to complete a bicycle and walking path. Yet several landowners along the river don't want a path through their yards.
Eminent domain is a tool that government entities commonly use to construct needed public infrastructure projects such as fire stations, schools or utility corridors. While we don't disagree that the city of Pocatello would benefit from a recreation path along the river, it's a clear violation of private property rights to condemn land for recreational purposes. The use of eminent domain, in this case, is yet another example of government overstepping its authority.
A clear difference exists between needs and wants, and when private property rights are in the crosshairs, our organization will always come down on the side of landowners retaining their autonomy and making decisions with regard to development of their property.
Frank Priestley is president of the Idaho Farm Bureau.