PA Senate Amends Buffer Rule that Represented the Worst Sort of Government

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pennsylvania-103457_640-630x286A win for the little guy

Government’s role is to serve the people.  America is a people with a government, not a government with a people. The people—their needs, their interests, their rights—come first in all things. Our Constitution prohibits government behavior that is arbitrary, capricious, abusive, or uncompensated taking of private property, among others.

Any American who loses sight of these limitations has fallen into the easy trap of promoting government over the people. People in both main political parties fall into this trap, because both main parties have largely lost touch with the U.S. Constitution (and the Pennsylvania Constitution) and its daily meaning for American citizens.

Pennsylvania’s state senate passed HB 1565, which amended through law a procedural environmental rule issued in the last days of the former Gov. Ed Rendell administration in 2010. The rule created 150-foot buffers along streams designated High Quality and Exceptional Value, and removed that buffer land from nearly all uses.

No compensation to the landowner was provided. Allowing the landowner to claim a charitable donation for public benefit was not allowed.  Higher building density on the balance of the property was not allowed. The buffer land was simply taken by government fiat, by administrative dictate, totally at odds with the way American government is supposed to work.

And the appeal process afforded to landowners under the rule was onerous, extremely expensive, and lengthy.  It was not real due process, but rather a series of high hurdles designed to chase away landowners from their property rights.  Everything about this rule was designed to make the government’s job as easy as possible, and the private property owner’s rights and abilities as watered down as possible.

The 150-foot buffer rule represented the worst sort of government, because it did not serve the people, it quite simply took from the people.  The 150-foot buffer rule was blunt force trauma in the name of environmental quality, which can easily be achieved to the same level myriad other ways.  The rule was the easy way out, and it represented a throwback to the old days of the environmental movement and environmental quality management when big government, top-down, command-and-control dictates were standard fare for arresting environmental degradation.

That approach made sense when polluted American rivers were catching fire, nearly 50 years ago.  Today, a scalpel and set of screwdrivers can achieve the environmental goal much better, and fairly.  Supporters of the rule claimed that voting for HB 1565 was voting against environmental quality, which made no sense.  Environmental quality along HQ and EV stream corridors could have easily been achieved with a similar, but innately fairer, 150-foot buffer rule.  It saddens me that my fellow Americans could not see that simple fact, and instead sought to stay with a deeply flawed government process until the bitter end.

I know the people who both created and then championed the rule.  Some of them are friends and acquaintances of mine.  Their motives and intentions were good.  I won’t say that they are bad people.  Yes, they are mostly Democrats, but there were also plenty of Republicans involved in designing it and defending it, including former high level Republican government appointees.

Rather, this rule was a prime example of how simply out of touch many government decision makers have become with what American government is supposed to be, and it adds fuel to my own quest to help reintroduce the US and Pennsylvania constitutions back into policy discussions and government decision making so that we don’t have more HB 1565 moments in the future.

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