Reactionary environmentalism almost always opposes private ownership of property. For example, Stephanie Mills (Whatever Happened to Ecology?) equates land ownership with slavery, and reactionary environmentalism with abolitionism. [124] By contrast, progressive environmentalists know that virtually all of our environmental problems originate with respect to the "commons" – resources that are owned by no one.

Case Study: The Legacy of Love Canal. To many people, Love Canal is a symbol of corporate greed and irresponsibility – providing irrefutable evidence of the need for government to control land use. The facts show otherwise. The crisis occurred after the Niagara Falls school board (a governmental entity) purchased a toxic waste site which had been lined with clay, filled and capped with clay by the Hooker Chemical Company (a private enterprise). The company demonstrated to the school board that the site was potentially dangerous. Under threat of eminent domain, however, it relented and accepted a one dollar purchase price for the property – after writing into the documents of transfer the nature of the dangers and including a disclaimer of liability for future damages, once ownership of the site was transferred. [125]

Despite the warnings from Hooker, the school board built a school on the site, later selling the remaining land to a developer. Even before the land was developed, the city built water and sewer service lines through the clay walls that were in place to contain the wastes. These gaps in the walls provided pathways for the chemicals, which were later found in the soil and even the basements of area residents.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was called in to investigate. In a very quick statistical study, [126] later discredited, the EPA announced that it had found evidence of long-term health problems – an increase in chromosome aberrations in a sample of residents. Federal funds were quickly made available to purchase the homes in the area. These homes were boarded up and the affected neighborhoods effectively destroyed. Later, additional federal money purchased more homes. To date, however, detailed studies have turned up no clear evidence of cancers or other long-term health threats present in the neighborhoods. And two decades later, in September 1988, about two-thirds of the area was declared habitable by the New York State Department of Health. [127]

The lessons of Love Canal are: (1) private companies respond to economic incentives to follow environmentally safe practices, and (2) voters need 'to exercise much greater scrutiny of the behavior of their elected representatives, who usually do not bear the costs of their environmentally destructive behavior. Instead of following these lessons, Congress gave us Superfund (see below).

Case Study: How Environmental Groups Manage Their Own Lands. Some of the most visible environmental disputes arise over what is to be done with someone else's land. Environmental groups have filed thousands of lawsuits against the federal government and private property owners. It is one thing to tell others how to manage their property. Decisions are often quite different when environmental groups manage their own property. [128]

  • Ten miles south of Intercoastal City, Louisiana, lies the Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary, a 26,800 acre marshland owned by the Audubon Society.

  • The sanctuary is a home for deer, armadillo, muskrat, otter, mink and more than 50,000 snow geese.

  • It also is the site of a number of oil and gas wells and provides grazing land for private cattle herds.

What are oil and gas wells and grazing cattle doing in a wildlife sanctuary? The Audubon Society has been vocal and critical of oil exploration and cattle grazing on lands owned by the federal government. In making decisions about its own property, however, Audubon's perspective is quite different and far more responsible. The managers of Rainey found that the timing, placement, operation and structure of oil exploration could be carefully planned in conjunction with the seasonal requirements of wildlife, and adverse environmental effects could be avoided. They also found that carefully controlled cattle grazing actually improves wildlife habitat.

Under the Audubon plan, everybody wins. The birds and wildlife keep their habitat, the public gets its oil and beef, and the Audubon Society receives funds to buy additional wildlife preserves.

This example is not unique. The Bernard N. Baker Sanctuary (run by the Michigan Audubon Society) was the nation's first sandhill crane sanctuary – created at a time when the cranes were in serious decline. Today, the society receives substantial royalty checks from oil and gas leases — which were carefully negotiated to insure that the crane's nesting grounds are not disturbed. [129]