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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