Open Letter to Sens. Snowe and Collins:
The Arrogance of CARA

by Erich Veyhl

Downeast Coastal Press May 9, 2000

Recent weeks have seen increasing political pressure on Maine's senators to reverse their skepticism towards the misnamed Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA). CARA would extend the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCD) to establish a permanent off-budget entitlement for environmentalists, guaranteeing billions of dollars a year im Federal funding for massive Federal and state acquisition of private property.

The Clinton-Gore administration and the national environmentalist lobby have made it clear that this funding scheme would be used to take over much of rural and coastal Maine which they have actively pursued for government acquisition for over 10 years. Yet environmentalists such as the Maine Times are currently attempting to allay fears by publicly asserting that the LWCF can only be used to expand existing Federal parks and could not be used to create new areas in Maine.

On the contrary, the LWCF has been the dominant source of funding for Federal park and refuge acquisitions for both new areas and expansions of existing areas since the 1960s. The National Park Service can normally acquire as much land as it wants to within any acquisition area designated (often ambiguously) by Congress now or in the future as long as money funneled through LWCF keeps feeding it. Other Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, already have the authority to create new areas and expand existing ones through their own internal administrative procedures without additional Congressional approval. (Remember the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge expansion?)

Given enough time, the Federal agencies and their well-healed, well-connected lobbyists often ultimately get whatever acquisition authority they need to take over their target. In a sustained campaign by powerful pressure groups lobbying for decades, it only takes one slip and people who have defended for years against a takeover suddenly find themselves at the mercy of a Federal agency like the National Park Service and the pressure groups egging it on.

It only takes only one weak senator or one bill slipped through late in a session in the dead of night. This scenario has been common in the establishment of Federal parks, refuges and greenline areas across the country for decades.

Environmentalists' reassurance that the proposed CARA entitlement for increased property acquisition would be restricted to funding acquisitions in approved areas is literally saying no more than they would only be able to take over property where they are able to take over property. It is an empty reassurance.

Frequently, the only way to hold these agencies back is frequently to try to limit their funding.

Historically the Federal agencies have abused their acquisition authority by buying up as much as they have the money for, whether or not such acquisition was the original intent of Congress or regardless of what was originally promised during the lobbying intended to quiet down the intended victims.

When the Federal agencies get more money they force more people to sell. It may not happen every year as political circumstances continually shift -- the process operates in cycles -- but when your turn comes, it comes brutally. The mindset of the Federal land agencies is to think long term -- often over decades -- and to ultimately use their authority to the maximum. The more ambiguous the legislative authority the more they stretch it.

Look, for example, at the "elastic boundary" at Acadia National Park, where threatened property owners at Round Pond near a rough, pencilled-in boundary line on the map were originally told not to worry. Or look at the spectacle of the viros and the National Park Service now literally going after a mountain where there was supposed to be a "trail," in a decades-old agenda to destroy the Saddleback Ski Area.

Once the victims of this political process are forced into the position where the only defense left is to try to limit Federal money allocated to "authorized" acquisition of their property. The battle never stops. Trying to block acquisition funds has to be done diligently every year, throughout the whole year, forever. You might succeed at stopping an annual acquisition appropriation for a decade, but it only takes one slip in one year and you are gone.

This whole process is like quicksand, it ratchets you in deeper and deeper, and once in you can never go back. Faced with enough resistance, the viros might wait but they won't stop. They watch until you have a bad month or year due to an illness or some other unavoidable problem, and then make their next move. With this system you can only get in more trouble as they incrementally squeeze you like a cobra.

This is no way to have to live, and it makes a sham of the supposed American guarantees of Constitutional rights, but for tens of thousands of people in rural communities across the country, fighting annual Congressional appropriations for land acquisition is the only "defense" left.

This is why the viros want acquisition funding removed from the annual Congressional appropriations process in their proposed new CARA entitlement. The LWCF was originally capped at $900 million/year, but Congress has rarely appropriated that much. This in part because of resistance from targeted property owners (disparaged as "lobbyists" by the Maine Times), and in part because (despite the spin about "dedicated" funding from oil "revenues"), money not spent by the LWCF goes into the General Fund, where it offsets the deficit or higher taxes. The LWCF was not intended to be an entitlement with no checks on acquisition spending.

The viros want to bypass that, making it even harder for people to defend their rights and harder to limit Federal spending. CARA would establish a Federal off-budget entitlement of $2.8 billion a year, most of it designated or available for acquisition, not subject to the annual Congressional appropriations process, which process is of course required for the budgeting of almost all other programs competing for Federal funds.

The viros want government enforcement of their agenda against private property to be an exception to what little of the democratic process we have left in this realm. They are demanding far more money to do far more damage, while eliminating their victims' last defense against the trampling of their rights.

The viros might as well arrogantly call for dismissing Congress and abolishing the Constitution, which clashes with their elitist vision of how to rule the country on behalf of "nature" anyway, and explains a lot of what we are now seeing and being subjected to by the environmentalist equivalent of a lynch mob.

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