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How to keep government accountable

By Henry Lamb
web posted February 21, 2005

The Missouri legislators who read, before voting to approve a water law (HB1433) in the waning moments of last year's session, no doubt, thought that they were creating something to help protect clean water in a nine-county area. That's what they were told by reputable employees of the state agencies, and influential lobbyists from environmental organizations.

The new law created a nine-county district in which water policy would be developed and enforced by appointed -- not elected -- officials.

None realized that the law they adopted was, in fact, an important step toward the implementation of a plan conceived more than 15 years ago by government officials and environmental organizations convened by, and systematically working through, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, in Gland, Switzerland.

The plan, generically known as "ecosystem management," is designed to manage natural resources on an "ecosystem" basis, rather than on the basis of arbitrarily-drawn state and county political boundaries. Equally important, is the transfer of management authority from elected officials to appointed officials. The "watershed" is the primary building block of every ecosystem.

HB1433 successfully designated nine Missouri counties as a watershed, and created an appointed body to govern water -- the essential ingredient in every ecosystem.

Ten years ago, in the same area of Missouri, the same government officials and environmental organizations attempted to impose the entire ecosystem management plan on the same area by proposing the creation of a U.N. Biosphere Reserve for Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas. The plan failed because local citizens learned how the plan would diminish private property rights and transfer authority from local elected officials to professional bureaucrats.

The proponents of ecosystem management have simply regrouped, lowered their sights, and are taking smaller bites toward achieving the same goals they pursued ten years ago.

Proponents of the ecosystem management plan make strong arguments about the desirability of managing water resources to assure adequate, safe supplies for future generations. It is absolutely true that water flows are not restricted by political boundaries or property lines. It is easy for politicians to swallow these arguments, if no one speaks up for costs and consequences that inevitably follow this kind of management scheme.

Local people are speaking up in Missouri. Russell Wood, head of the Ozarks Chapter of the Property Rights Congress, and Ray Cunio, President of Missouri's Citizens for Private Property Rights, are leading an effort to repeal HB1433.

More than 200 local citizens packed a restaurant where a meeting was held to discuss the merits of HB1433, and the efforts to repeal it. State Representative Dennis Wood, a proponent of the water district, explained that the legislation provided low-cost loans to people who would be required to upgrade their septic systems.

An unidentified lady said in response: "Why can't you understand? We don't want your 'help.' We don't need your law! Why can't you get that?"

Aside from the particular regulations and fines imposed by the water district law, the larger question is one that faces virtually every community in the nation: who shall govern -- elected officials, or appointed professionals?

The only way a government of, for, and by the people can be controlled by the people, is to throw the elected bums out of office when they enact laws or policies the people don't want. When policies that carry the weight of law are enacted and enforced by appointed professionals, the people no longer have the means to control their government.

Across the nation, watershed councils, historic districts, heritage areas, scenic highway commissions, rural development authorities, regional transportation boards, area planning councils, and numerous other "multi-jurisdictional" authorities are emerging, to diminish, or remove policy-making authority from elected officials, and transfer that authority to appointed government bureaucrats.

These agency professionals are often members of national associations of agency professionals that regularly participate in conferences convened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Six federal agencies are dues-paying members of this organization, as are most of the national environmental organizations. The IUCN is the source of virtually every international environmental treaty in the last 30 years, the author of Agenda 21, and numerous other international environmental agreements and policies.

When key players in the Missouri legislature were approached last year by these well-versed agency professionals and environmental experts, they created the water district. Now that the local citizens have had a chance to see what the legislators did, they are responding, to hold their elected officials accountable -- to repeal the water district law.

Local citizens everywhere can take a lesson from the folks in Missouri; get informed, get involved, and get busy.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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