Interpretations of private property – July/August 2021
We’ve all been told to read the fine print, which most of us probably don’t do (especially when it relates to computer programs). However, if we’re going to be spending a large sum of money reading the fine print is important. Also important is knowing that your interpretation of words may not be the same as the other person’s interpretation. That’s why we end up using attorneys for issues because courts are in the business of interpreting the meaning of words and attorneys are in the business of interpreting what the court has said.
In everyday life we rely on similar backgrounds to provide a somewhat similar meaning for words. When you have a divergence in culture, common understanding of words can also diverge. For instance, when people in town tell you they are going to run to the grocery store they mean they’ll be gone for less than an hour. A person on the ranch on the other hand means they’ll likely be gone for several hours if not all day. This understanding of words has caught me more than once. Having said that, I’m somewhat suspicious of some words which have been coming out of Washington, D.C.
Early on in the Biden Administration he issued his 30 x 30 plan which later got a name change to “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful.” As noted in a previous column of mine the plan was short on specifics and long on overarching ideas. In one of our meetings with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) it was stressed that they used the word “conserve” and not “preserve.” Both of these words have different meanings and outcomes. However, there is some overlap between the two.
Fast forward several months and there was an announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corp of Engineers that they were going to rescind the Waters of the U.S. Rule. The American Farm Bureau worked tirelessly to get a clear and common-sense rule which would protect water and protect private property owners from facing enormous fines should they inadvertently run afoul of the definition of what is a water of the U.S.
There haven’t been any details on rescinding the rule except some pronouncements from the agencies that under the current rule there were a lot of water bodies which were not regulated. What they meant to say was that these water bodies were not regulated by them. We know that at least in Wyoming our state statutes are broader than the federal statutes which gives our Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) a broader scope for regulating water quality.
When you compare these two actions you begin to wonder if we in agriculture have a different interpretation than the Biden Administration of private property. I’m concerned that some interpret private property to mean the ability for me to own and pay taxes, but un-named bureaucrats can tell me how to manage my property.
Some people think this intrusion into how private property is run is a perfectly legitimate role for government. People in this camp don’t deny private property but will insist that landowners are not capable of running that property, so government bureaucrats should provide that management expertise.
For most landowners this isn’t what they think private property is all about. Owning the piece of ground and being able to utilize that piece of ground for an economic purpose based on the property owner’s best judgement, not an un-elected official’s views, is what landowners think of when you say “private property.”
As we learn more about both of these issues, we’ll see just how different our perception of private property is with Washington, D.C.’s.
By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President