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Ithaca area’s Congressman: N.Y. should pay for damage done by fracking ban

Editor’s Note: The following is an opinion column written by Rep. Tom Reed, who represents the Ithaca area in the U.S. Congress.

To submit an alternative or dissenting column, feel free to contact me at jstein@ithacavoice.com.

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Written by Rep. Tom Reed:

New York had more electoral votes than any other state in every presidential election from 1812 to 1948. It has lost electoral votes in every redistricting since 1950. It stands at 29 now and has fallen behind California, Texas and soon Florida. Upstate has borne the brunt of the population loss.

Washington can’t figure out why this is happening, and neither can Albany, our state capital. But Neil Vitale knows. Vitale is a farmer in Steuben County in New York’s Southern Tier. He was my personal guest to President Obama’s State of the Union Speech. And it is obvious to him what happened. “What I’ve seen in our area is farmers going out of business often because of regulation and with the unemployment rate so high,” he told me. “People just can’t find work to support themselves, let alone a family. They are leaving in droves.”

New York had a chance to revitalize the Southern Tier. It could have joined the natural gas boom years ago. Its Marcellus Shale would have provided thousands of well-paying jobs that could’ve put many of these families back to work and lifted many out of poverty.

But our governor, Andrew Cuomo, thought otherwise. He banned fracking throughout New York. Now, the only way many of these farmers can see any return on their property is to sell out and leave.

When government gets out of its rightful lane, people get hurt. When it deprives property owners of the value of their land, it causes economic damage. When it severely reduces the value of property and the ability of owners to make money off it, it ruins the economic prospects of a region. This is what has happened in my congressional district of New York and those around it.

That is why I have introduced the Defense of Property Rights Act – to protect citizens’ property rights and better provide means for citizens to seek redress against an overreaching government.  Building on the foundation of previous property rights legislation, the Act provides two real avenues of defense – compensation and legal reform – to ensure these individual constitutionally guaranteed property rights are protected.

The Defense of Property Rights Act would provide an opportunity for citizens to seek compensation when government action significantly impairs the value of their property. This would promote accountability and responsible policymaking by forcing the government to provide compensation to affected property owners as a result of infringing on their constitutionally protected property rights. Today, those individuals are not eligible for relief because the government did not render their property entirely “value-less.”

The proposed legislation also addresses the issue of jurisdiction by streamlining the federal court process and providing concurrent federal and state review. This helps return fundamental fairness to the system and provides a means for aggrieved property owners to pursue such action in a court of the citizen’s choosing, not the government’s.

Currently, through the use of conflicting and limiting standing requirements and jurisdictional ambiguity, many property owners are left in state courts where the burden is on them to prove not only harm, but a “total loss of use” of their property as a whole. This injustice severely limits their opportunities for a remedy and is by its nature fundamentally un-American.

The Defense of Property Rights Act presents a workable solution to an issue that affects us all. I hope my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, in New York and elsewhere, will support this legislation which appeals to the highest of American ideals—freedom, fairness and justice.

Private property ownership and control of personal property are basic cornerstones of American freedom. Property is understood to be an extension of an individual and its use is expressed as the freedom to dispose of it to a person’s maximum benefit. Frédéric Bastiat observed in “The Law” that “Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”

It is like eminent domain, enshrined in the Fifth Amendment – in which the government pays fair-market value for property it takes for public use. Farmers who can’t derive the benefits of oil or natural gas on their property because of government action are due compensation as certainly as those who are forced to move so a road can be built.

The Defense of Property Rights Act, which is now before the House Judiciary Committee, reaffirms and re-establishes the importance of private property rights and individual control of those rights. Like all the rights guaranteed by our Constitution, property rights are something we as Americans should care deeply about. It is time to stand on the side of the people who do not enjoy these basic rights.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.