Monday, February 20, 2012
Ilya Somin (George Mason) has a post on the Volokh Conspiracy called Another Chance at Federal Eminent Domain Reform:
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo decision, which allowed the condemnation of private property for economic development, some 44 states have passed eminent domain reform laws. Although many of those laws are likely to be ineffective, overall a good deal of progress has been made at the state level in curbing abusive condemnations, including by state courts enforcing the property rights provisions of their state constitutions.
Unfortunately, very little has been achieved at the federal level during that time. On the third anniversary of Kelo in 2008, I summed up federal reform efforts as follows:
[Insert sound of crickets chirping, grass growing, and paint drying].
Somin cites an op-ed by Christina Walsh of the Institute of Justice:
A bipartisan bill, H.R. 1433, making its way through the House would strip a city of federal economic development funding for two years if the city takes private property to give to someone else for their private use. Cities that want to keep their funding will have to be more circumspect in using eminent domain.
This bill undoubtedly will pass the House as it did in 2005, and likely will get stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, where it has gone to die in years past.
It'll be interesting to see if this goes anywhere, but I suspect there's probably too much political noise this year.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
President Obama gave a speech yesterday in Falls Church, VA, explaining his State of the Union thoughts on housing. From the White House transcript:
As I indicated at the State of the Union last week, I am sending Congress a plan that will give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage by refinancing at historically low rates. (Applause.) No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks. And a small fee on the largest financial institutions will make sure it doesn’t add to our deficit.
I want to be clear: This plan, like the other actions we’ve taken, will not help the neighbors down the street who bought a house they couldn’t afford, and then walked away and left a foreclosed home behind. It’s not designed for those who’ve acted irresponsibly, but it can help those who’ve acted responsibly. It’s not going to help those who bought multiple homes just to speculate and flip the house and make a quick buck, but it can help those who’ve acted responsibly.
What this plan will do is help millions of responsible homeowners who make their payments on time but find themselves trapped under falling home values or wrapped up in red tape.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Uma Outka (Kansas) has posted an essay called The Energy-Land Use Nexus, forthcoming in the Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law, 2012. The abstract:
This Symposium Essay explores the contours of the “energy-land use nexus” – the rich set of interrelationships between land use and energy production and consumption. This underexplored nexus encapsulates barriers and opportunities as the trajectory of U.S. energy policy tilts away from fossil fuels. The Essay argues that the energy-land use nexus provides a useful frame for approaching policy to minimize points of conflict between energy goals on the one hand and land conservation on the other.
Friday, January 6, 2012
Via Jessica Owley, news of an interesting upcoming conference at Buffalo:
Save The Date and Call for Papers
Wetlands Policy for the Next Generation
26-27 April 2012 at SUNY Buffalo Law School
Buffalo, New York
Beyond Jurisdiction: Wetlands Policy for the Next Generation will bring together academics from law and other fields to join advocates in an exploration of the future of wetlands law and policy from a variety of perspectives (normative, empirical, instrumental, etc.). As is true of many areas of law and social policy, the world of wetlands is inherently political and value-laden—the law is often be a poor means of accomplishing contested social objectives in this area. A debate sparked by U.S. Supreme Court decisions and related federal actions have focused wetlands scholarship and advocacy during the past decade on exploring the parameters of which “waters of the United States” fall under federal jurisdictional. Such concentration has detracted from scholarship and study of many other important issues related to wetlands policy, such as mitigation, the Tulloch rule, nationwide permits, local and state policy developments, international treaty obligations, and other matters. This conference is designed to broaden the focus of exploration and include voices of scholars, activists, scientists, media professionals, and others.
We welcome many voices to this discussion, and invite submissions on any related topic of legal, policy, or additional matters related to wetlands and other jurisdictional waters, including:
· Tulloch/discharge issues
· Ecosystem services
· State and local governance
· Permit processes (including nationwide and regional permits)
· Administration of the Clean Water Act
· International and transnational protections
Accepted papers will be published either in a special journal issue or as a chapter in an academic press book. You are invited to submit a paper abstract or presentation proposal of no more than 400 words by Monday, 13 February 2012 to http://baldycenter.info/cgi-bin/applications/rfp.cgi <http://baldycenter.info/cgi-bin/applications/rfp.cgi> .
For more information, contact Kim Diana Connolly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 716-645-2092
Friday, December 30, 2011
Michael Allan Wolf (Florida) has a new book out called The Supreme Court and the Environment: The Reluctant Protector (CQ Press, 2012). Here's the Amazon blurb:
Silent Spring (1962) can arguable be cited as one of the most influential books of the modern era. This book, along with 1960's rampant activism reacting to high-profile ecological calamities, helped create the modern environmental movement. The Supreme Court and the Environment, written by Michael Wolf, discusses one of this movement's most important legacies, namely the body of federal statutory law amassed to fight pollution and conserve natural resources that began with the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Instead of taking the more traditional route of listing court decisions, The Supreme Court and the Environment puts the actual cases in a subsidiary position, as part of a larger set of documents paired with incisive introductions that illustrate the fascinating and sometimes surprising give-and-take with Congress, federal administrative agencies, state and local governments, environmental organizations and private companies and industry trade groups that have helped define modern environmental policy.
And for a preview, Prof. Wolf has posted the introduction on SSRN. The abstract:
This document contains the Introduction and Contents for The Supreme Court and the Environment: The Reluctant Protector (CQ Press/Sage 2012). When one views the body of modern environmental law — the decisions and the other key documents — the picture that emerges is not one of Supreme Court dominance. In this legal drama, the justices have most often played supporting roles. While we can find the occasional, memorable soliloquy in a Supreme Court majority, concurring, or dissenting opinion, the leading men and women are more likely found in Congress, administrative agencies, state and local legislatures, nongovernmental organizations, private industry, and state and lower federal courts.
What one learns from studying the Supreme Court’s environmental law output is that the justices for the most part seem more concerned about more general issues of deference to administrative agencies, the rules of statutory interpretation, the role of legislative history, the requisites for standing, and the nature of the Takings Clause than the narrow issues of entitlement to a clean environment, the notion of an environmental ethic that underlies written statutes and regulations, and concerns about ecological diversity and other environmental values. When we widen the lens, however, and focus on the other documents that make up essential parts of the story of the Supreme Court and the environment — complaints by litigants, briefs by parties and by friends of the court, oral argument transcripts, the occasional stirring dissent, lower court decisions, presidential signing statements and press conference transcripts, media reports and editorials, and legislative responses to high court decisions — we discover what is often missing in the body of Supreme Court decisions.
Looks fascinating, and is a very original take that situates the cases themselves within a broader context of Supreme Court jurisprudence and goes beyond to the larger networks of actors that shape law.
December 30, 2011 in Books, Caselaw, Coastal Regulation, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, History, Judicial Review, Politics, Property Rights, Scholarship, Supreme Court, Takings, Wetlands | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Nestor M. Davidson (Fordham) has posted Sketches for a Hamiltonian Vernacular as a Social Function of Property, Fordham Law Review, Vol. 80 (2011). The abstract:
This symposium article examines the intersection between Léon Duguit’s concept of the social function of property, predicated on an affirmative duty on owners to put their property to productive use for the sake of social solidarity, and a tradition in the property law of the United States that similarly reflected this kind of pro-development norm. The article associates the impulse to associate ownership with a productivity oriented social function with certain Hamiltonian themes at the founding and in the early nineteenth-century salus populi tradition, and argues that the imperative remains a background norm in the United States that contrasts with classical liberal absolutism and certain strains of civic republican property norms.
Absolutely fascinating-- an original insight that makes an important contribution to our understanding of early republic property theory and its implications for property law today.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Ioan Voicu (US Gov't--Office of the Comptroller of the Currency), Vicki Been (NYU), Mary Weselcouch (NYU Furman Center), and Andrew Tschirart (US Gov't--OCC) have posted Performance of HAMP versus non-HAMP Loan Modifications--Evidence from New York City. The abstract:
Policymakers have heralded mortgage modifications as a key to addressing the ongoing foreclosure crisis. However, there is a lack of research about whether modifications are successful at helping borrowers stay current on their loans over the long run and what kinds of modifications are most successful. Our empirical strategy employs logit models in a hazard framework to explain how loan, borrower, property, servicer and neighborhood characteristics, along with differences in the types of modifications, affect the likelihood of redefault. The dataset includes both HAMP modifications and proprietary modifications. Our results demonstrate that borrowers who receive HAMP modifications have been considerably more successful in staying current than those receiving non-HAMP modifications.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Will Oremus writes in Slate on a Requiem for a Train: High Speed Rail is Dead in America; Should we Mourn it? From the article:
Well, you can stop imagining it now. High-speed rail isn’t happening in America. Not anytime soon. Probably not ever. The questions now are (1) what killed it, and (2) should we mourn its passing? . . .
Though Republicans’ outright rejection of high-speed rail is short-sighted, so were many of the plans themselves. Rather than focus on the few corridors that need high-speed rail lines the most, the Obama administration doled out half a billion here and half a billion there, a strategy better-suited to currying political support than to addressing real infrastructure problems. Spread across 10 corridors, each between 100 and 600 miles long, Obama’s rail system would have been, at best, a disjointed patchwork. The nation’s most gridlocked corridor, along the East Coast between Washington, D.C. and Boston, was left out of the plans entirely. Worse, much of the money was allocated to projects that weren’t high-speed rail at all.
Lots of mistakes were made in the roll-out of the HSR plan, but one of the main problems was that it was fantasized in a lot of places where it isn't really necessary, and ignored in the places where it could be great.
Monday, December 5, 2011
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear one of the only cases that touches on property rights scheduled for this Term, PPL Montana, Inc., v. Montana. Professor Thomas Merrill has posted an excellent preview of the case on SCOTUS blog:
On December 7, the Court will hear argument in PPL Montana, LLC v. Montana. The case is one for history buffs. The question is whether the state of Montana holds title to portions of three riverbeds in the state. The parties agree that the relevant legal test is historical: were the river segments in question part of a waterway that was “navigable in fact” when Montana became a state in 1889? Prominent among the many bits of historical evidence cited are the journals of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who explored the rivers in 1805 on their famous expedition.
That's enough to get me excited (seriously). Go read the rest of Prof. Merrill's informative analysis. (h/t to our friends at Property Prof Blog for the link).
And don't forget that we had our own pre-preview here at the Land Use Prof Blog, back on the day after the Court granted cert. From guest-blogger Tim Mulvaney's take on SCOTUS cert grant for PPL Montana v. Montana:
In finding that all three rivers at issue met this “navigability for title” test when Montana entered statehood in 1889, the Montana Supreme Court cited to a litany of historical evidence, including the centuries-old journals of Lewis and Clark. As today’s brief AP story notes, PPL Montana disagreed, pointing “to accounts of the [Lewis and Clark] expedition’s arduous portages of canoes and supplies around waterfalls to argue that the contested stretches of water were not navigable.” The Montana Supreme Court’s opinion also drew PPL Montana’s ire by considering what the company alleges are flawed contemporary studies, as well as recent recreational uses of certain stretches of the rivers, to support the finding that the rivers are held in total by the state in trust for present and future generations.
One of the foremost experts in natural resources and water law, Professor Rick Frank, notes on Legal Planet that the U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed navigability in the context of state public trust claims for several decades. How the Supreme Court interprets its time-honored test and identifies what evidence is relevant in its application could have major ramifications for thousands of miles of inland lakes and waterways nationwide.
Should be very interesting. Stay tuned.
December 5, 2011 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Federal Government, History, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court, Takings, Transportation, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Hannah Wiseman (Tulsa, Florida State)--who did some terrific guest-blogging with us last year and is part of the crew over at the Environmental Law Prof Blog--and Francis Gradijan (JD, Texas) have posted Regulation of Shale Gas Development, a white paper from the Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration and Environmental Law, University of Texas School of Law. The abstract:
Development of oil and gas from shale and tight sands formations in the United States is rapidly expanding, enabled in part by slickwater hydraulic fracturing (also called fracing, fracking, or hydrofracking). This boom in unconventional production has introduced new concerns in communities around the country, raising questions about potential impacts to surface and underground water supplies and air quality, for example. Some policymakers and administrators have recently updated laws to address these concerns, while others have attempted to fit evolving technologies and practices within existing frameworks. This white paper, written for the Energy Institute at the University of Texas, explores the environmental laws and regulations that apply to most stages of the oil or gas development process in shales and tight sands, from conducting seismic testing to constructing a well pad, drilling, completing a hydraulic fracture treatment, and storing and disposing of waste. It briefly describes federal regulations, including recently-announced EPA regulatory efforts, but focuses primarily on the states, comparing regulations in sixteen states that apply to most stages of the well development process. The paper's comparison tables show that state regulations in some areas vary substantially, and the paper attempts to connect the potential risks of oil and gas development from shales and tight sands -- which are addressed in another Energy Institute paper by Professor Ian Duncan -- to the regulation. The paper concludes that states should consider modifying certain regulations to address these risks. Some states do not require specific types of blowout prevention, for example -- offering only a narrative standard -- yet well blowouts are an important concern. Furthermore, states should consider whether federal Department of Transportation regulations addressing the movement of fracturing chemicals adequately protect against spills, and whether state casing and cementing regulations protect well integrity during the drilling and fracturing process and into the future. States also must explore better options for disposing of large quantities of new wastes. Finally, the collection of more and better data, including information from baseline and post-production water testing, is essential. With states at the regulatory helm, comparison of public law strategies to address development risks can produce fruitful cross-jurisdictional lessons.
Timely and important.
Friday, November 18, 2011
From the Sustainable Communities folks at EPA:
New Partnership for Sustainable Communities Report:
Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities
The HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities and the USDA has
just released Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities, a report that
discusses how the four agencies are collaborating to support rural
communities. This publication highlights how small towns and rural
places across the country are using federal resources to strengthen
their economies, provide better quality of life to residents, and build
on local assets such as traditional main streets, agricultural lands,
and natural resources.
The report includes sections on how HUD, DOT, EPA, and USDA programs
support environmentally and economically sustainable growth in rural
places; performance measures rural communities can use to target their
investments; and 12 case studies of rural communities using federal
resources to achieve their development and economic goals. It also
outlines steps the Partnership for Sustainable Communities is pursuing
to support small towns and rural places.
To read the report, please visit this website.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Monday, November 14, 2011
Daniel I. Halperin (Harvard) has posted Incentives for Conservation Easements: The Charitable Deduction or a Better Way, Law & Contemporary Problems, Vol. 74, p. 29, Fall 2011. The abstract:
Therefore, to give greater assurance that the public benefit of the gift will be consistent with the claimed deduction, the donee should be required to certify that it has selected the easement consistent with its mission and it has both the resources to manage and enforce the restriction and a commitment to do so. Moreover, it is inappropriate to measure the charitable deduction by the supposed loss in value to the donor from the imposition of the easement. The focus should be on actual benefit to charity. Therefore, eligibility for a charitable deduction for a conservation easement should be contingent on certification – by a public agency or, possibly, an IRS-accredited land trust – that the public benefit from the contribution is equivalent to the claimed deduction.
In fact, the recent changes to various tax-expenditure programs – placing caps on the expenditures and requiring the participation of expert agencies – indicates that Congress is less enamored than it once was with open-ended tax expenditures administered solely by the Treasury Department. This suggests a cap on tax credits for the contribution of conservation easements. Even if the program is open-ended, Congress should mandate participation of an expert agency such as the Bureau of Land Management, which is more capable of evaluating the public value of an easement.
Monday, November 7, 2011
John R. Nolon (Pace) has posted Land Use for Energy Conservation and Sustainable Development: A New Path Toward Climate Change Mitigation. The abstract:
Land use tools and techniques have impressive potential to reduce energy consumption, improve the economy, and mitigate climate change. This article explores the little understood influence of local land use decision-making on energy conservation and sustainable development and how it can mitigate climate change if properly assisted by the federal and state governments. The construction and use of buildings combined with extensive vehicular travel throughout the nation’s human settlements consume large amounts of energy, and much of that consumption is highly inefficient. By enforcing and enhancing energy codes, encouraging the use of combined heat and power and district energy systems, properly orienting and commissioning buildings, incorporating renewable energy resources, and promoting transit and other methods of reducing vehicle miles travelled, local land use law’s potential to achieve energy conservation and sustainable development can be unlocked. These techniques can be organized at the neighborhood level and aggregated by adopting local Energy Conservation Zoning Districts in neighborhoods where significant energy conservation can be achieved. The article proposes federal and state policies, combining features of both the Coastal Zone Management Act and the Enterprise Zone initiative, that can facilitate local land use initiatives that will shape human settlements and control the built environment as a new path toward energy efficiency and climate change mitigation.
In the footnotes, Prof. Nolon notes that this is part of a trilogy:
FN.1. This article is one of three that examine how local land use law that can be used as an effective strategy to mitigate climate change. See John R. Nolon, The Land Use Stabilization Wedge Strategy: Shifting Gound to Mitigate Climate Change, 34 WM. & MARY ENVTL. L. & POL’Y REV. 1 (2009) [hereinafter Land Use Stablization Wedge] and John R. Nolon, Mitigating Climate Change through Biological Sequestration: Open Space Law Redux, 31 STAN. ENVTL. L.J. (forthcoming Winter 2011) [hereinafter Open Space Law Redux].
This is a great set of articles for anyone interested in the subject from one of the leaders in land use and local environmental law.
November 7, 2011 in Climate, Coastal Regulation, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Green Building, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, State Government, Sustainability, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, November 4, 2011
As the cleanup in Joplin continues, another potentially deadly hazard has been uncovered, dangerously high levels of lead. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, “In tests of 43 properties, 18 showed high levels of lead, prompting the city’s mayor to ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for help in testing for, and cleaning up, the element.”
For more than 100 years, beginning in the mid-19th century, Jasper County was at the worldwide forefront of lead and zinc mining. The area included town names like Leadville Hollow and Minersville.
According to Dan Pekarek, director of the Joplin Health Department, a waste product from lead mining called “chat” was dumped in several spots around the city of Joplin, and simply covered with soil. Those sites we likely exposed when the F-5 tornado ripped through the city.
Additionally, in an interview with the Joplin Globe, Pekarek said “Chat was pretty readily available around here, and they used it. It was used as fill for voids around footings and foundations, and to level out crawl spaces.”
As if the poor folks in Joplin haven't been through enough! According to this news release the EPA is offering to enter a cooperative agreement with the city to test for and remediate the lead contamination.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
The NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy has just sent out news of its latest fascinating and important study: American Murder Mystery Revisited: Do Housing Voucher Households Cause Crime? The study is authored by co-director Ingrid Gould Ellen, Michael C. Lens, and Katherine O'Regan. From the announcement:
We are pleased to share with you the latest paper from the Furman Center, American Murder Mystery Revisited: Do Housing Voucher Households Cause Crime? The study explores the link between housing vouchers and neighborhood crime rates. More than two million renters now receive Housing Choice Vouchers, which subsidize rent in private apartments. Although voucher holders live in a large variety of neighborhoods, community opposition to vouchers can be fierce due to perceptions that voucher holders will both reduce property values and heighten crime. The widely-circulated 2008 Atlantic Monthly article “American Murder Mystery” highlighted this controversy.
Our study, which examines changes in crime and voucher use over 12 years in ten major U.S. cities, finds no evidence that an increase of voucher holders in a community leads to increases in crime. Instead, we find a different association: that voucher holders are more likely to move into areas when crime rates are already rising. The paper was featured in an article in The Atlantic Cities, and presented September 19 at an internal briefing held at the HUD headquarters in Washington, DC. You can read the full paper here and accompanying fact sheet here.
When it comes to housing and land use, everyone has an opinion, because everyone lives somewhere and has anecdotal information. It's great to have a study like this to clarify popular conceptions based on facts. The Furman Center leads the way in producing these kinds of helpful studies.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Lawrence Summers (former Treasury Secretary, Harvard President, and Obama advisor) has posted a Washington Post op-ed called How to Stabilize the Housing Market. From the article:
The central irony of a financial crisis is that while it is caused by too much confidence, borrowing and lending, and spending, it can be resolved only with more confidence, borrowing and lending, and spending. This is true, above all, of housing policies. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) whose purpose is to mitigate cyclicality in housing and that today dominate the mortgage market, have become a textbook case of disastrous and pro-cyclical policy.
Summers notes that the housing market is key to the economy, and makes several substantive recommendations, including:
First, and perhaps most fundamentally, credit standards for those seeking to buy homes are too high and too rigorous. The characteristics of the average successful applicant in 2004 would make that applicant among the most risky today. The pattern should be the opposite, given that the odds of a further 35 percent decline in house prices are much lower than they were at past bubble valuations.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
John G. Sprankling (Pacific McGeorge) has posted The Emergence of International Property Law, forthcoming in the North Carolina Law Review. The abstract:
Title to deep seabed minerals, ownership of cultural objects, transferable allowances to emit greenhouse gases, security interests in spacecraft, and rights of indigenous peoples in ancestral lands are all components of a new field: international property law.
Scholars have traditionally viewed property law solely as a national concern. Indeed, the conventional wisdom is that international property law does not exist. But if we ask how international law affects private property, we find a substantial body of international property law that governs the rights of individuals, businesses, and other non-state actors. Some components are well established, while others are still evolving.
This article first examines the antecedents of international property law. It then develops the thesis that this law stems from four main sources: regulation of the global commons; coordination of transboundary property rights; adoption of global policies to prevent specific harms; and protection of human rights. It concludes by analyzing the challenges that arise from the emergence of international property law.
Forty years ago, international environmental law emerged as a new field. Today we stand on the threshold of a similar era in international property law. This article argues that the time has come to recognize international property law as a discrete subject, and thereby promote its coherent evolution in future decades.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Ashira Ostrow (Hofstra) has posted Land Law Federalism, 61 Emory L.J. ___ (forthcoming 2012). A must-read, this foundational work explores the theoretical framework for appropriate federal intervention in the state/local-dominated area of land use regulation. Here's the abstract:
In modern society, capital, information and resources pass seamlessly across increasingly porous jurisdictional boundaries; land does not. Perhaps because of its immobility, the dominant descriptive and normative account of land use law is premised upon local control. Yet, land exhibits a unique duality. Each parcel is at once absolutely fixed in location but inextricably linked to a complex array of interconnected systems, natural and man-made. Ecosystems spanning vast geographic areas sustain human life; interstate highways, railways and airports physically connect remote areas; networks of buildings, homes, offices and factories, create communities and provide the physical context in which most human interaction takes place.
Given the traditional commitment to localism, scholars and policymakers often reflexively dismiss the potential for an increased federal role in land use law. Yet, modern land use law already involves a significant federal dimension resulting, in part, from the enactment of federal statutes that have varying degrees of preemptive effect on local authority. Moreover, this Article maintains that federal intervention in land use law is warranted where the cumulative impact of local land use decisions interferes with national regulatory objectives (such as developing nationwide energy or telecommunications infrastructure).
Finally, this Article advances an interjurisdictional framework for federal land law that harnesses (a) the capacity of the federal government, with its distance from local politics and economic pressures, to coordinate land use on a national scale and (b) the capacity of local officials, who have detailed knowledge of the land and are politically accountable to the local community, to implement land use policies.
October 11, 2011 in Climate, Development, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Globalism, Green Building, Inclusionary Zoning, Local Government, NIMBY, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations, Sustainability, Transportation, Wetlands, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Peter Orszag, former OMB director for the Obama Administration, has a piece in Bloomberg where he argues that the U.S. Can Rent Its Way Toward a Housing Recovery:
No matter what the government might try to do to break the housing-economy cycle, the deleveraging process will still be painful and take some time. But that’s not an argument against action; just because a headache can still hurt some even if you take aspirin doesn’t mean you should skip the aspirin. One thing the Obama administration could do now -- probably with Republican support -- would be to attack the oversupply of housing stock by allowing a tax write-off for investors who buy empty properties and rent them out.
Very interesting. If renting is the new owning, there might be something to this idea. I'm generally in favor of reducing rather than increasing tax incentives to promote real estate purchases, but if Orszag's proposal were narrowly tailored towards purchases specifically for rental housing, it might make some sense.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
This month begins a term at the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court will hear two important cases concerning land use. The cases turn on very different doctrinal issues. One concerns rights and remedies under the Administrative Procedure Act. The other involves an actual property issue, namely whether a state has title to a river bed arising out of application of the navigable waterway doctrine. In most ways, the cases could not be more different. Yet they are connected by one common theme. Both cases demonstrate the dangers—to landowners and governments alike—when a government entity is both a party interested in the outcome of a land use dispute and the authority charged with adjudicating the dispute.
The first case is Sackett v. EPA. According to their counsel, the Sacketts planned to build their dream home near (but not adjacent to) a lake in Idaho. They acquired the necessary local permits and received the assurance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that no federal permits were required. They had begun preparations to build when EPA showed up, insisting that the lot was situated on wetlands (the putative wetland area is separated from the lake itself).
As commentators on both the Left and the Right have observed, the factual question whether the Sacketts’ land is part of nearby wetlands is contestable. But the Sacketts have no way of contesting EPA’s contention unless and until EPA seeks enforcement of an order against them in federal court; two lower federal courts ruled that federal law provides no mechanism for a pre-enforcement challenge. As the Sacketts’ counsel pointed out, this situation left the Sacketts with an “unenviable choice.” They could apply for a permit that they believe they are not required to obtain and pay the associated costs. Or they could expose themselves to an enforcement action and the associated fines, which could run over $30,000 per day. Either way, they would incur inordinate expense to build on a lot that they purchased for $23,000.
This Hobson’s choice for the Sacketts rendered EPA the de facto adjudicator of their rights. And had a public interest litigation group not come to their aid, the Sacketts would have been at the mercy of a federal administrative agency that served as investigator, prosecutor, judge, and jury. Because the Court has agreed to hear the Sacketts’ claim not under the Clean Water Act but under the broader Administrative Procedure Act, the implications of the Court’s ruling could reach far. Jonathan Adler has speculated, “While this case focuses on the Clean Water Act’s ACO regime, the cert grant makes clear that it will have broader application to laws that employ similar enforcement mechanisms, including the Clean Air Act and Superfund.”
Does the constitutional test for determining whether a section of a river is navigable for title purposes require a trial court to determine, based on evidence, whether the relevant stretch of the river was navigable at the time the State joined the Union as directed by United States v. Utah, 283 U.S. 64 (1931), or may the court simply deem the river as a whole generally navigable based on evidence of present day recreational use, with the question “very liberally construed” in the State’s favor?
According to the pleadings, the case arose when the State of Montana decided to claim title in riverbeds that had long been used by a private landowner, namely a power company using the river to generate hydroelectricity. Montana became a state in 1889. Two years later, in 1891, a predecessor-in-title to the power company built a dam near Fort Benton, Montana on the Missouri River, apparently believing that this stretch of the river was not navigable, and that the State of Montana therefore had no title in it. More dams were built on the Missouri and Madison Rivers, and the State, no doubt benefiting from this land use, did not object. Indeed, the State participated in the licensing proceedings for some of the dams.
Then, in 2004, the State of Montana, piggybacking on a lawsuit filed by parents of Montana school children, claimed that it had owned title to the riverbeds all along because the contested stretches of river are navigable. The Montana Supreme Court ruled for the State and upheld a judgment of $41 million in back rent.
In this case, the government actor advocating on behalf of the state—the Montana Attorney General—is distinct from the state courts that adjudicated the claim. But the central issue in the case turns on a disputed, mixed question of fact and law. And about this question the Montana state courts showed strikingly little curiosity. Despite 500 pages of expert testimony and exhibits disputing the State’s assertion of navigability, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment for the State. The Montana courts appear to have simply accepted the Montana Attorney General’s proposed findings.
It is now increasingly common for states and federal agencies to advocate for particular outcomes of private land use proposals. I intend to explore some of the implications of this trend at length in later posts. But in short, whatever its benefits, this advocacy entails significant costs. And these costs are not borne only by landowners. I will argue that the governmental authorities themselves pay a price, because they risk damaging their reputations as impartial ministers of law.
Update: David Breemer of the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) comments below. As I should have noted, PLF is the public interest firm representing the Sacketts.