Friday, January 20, 2012

700,000 Public Trees Surrendered Without Recompense

Yesterday, in a narrowly split vote, the North Carolina Rules Review Commission approved “temporary” rules, which were micromanaged through the Department of Transportation by a powerful legislator and special interests that will permit the outdoor billboard industry to begin the process of clearcutting 700,000 publicly owned trees, hoping to make moot inevitable reviews and modifications by the legislature or courts.

Over the objections of 8 out of 10 North Carolinians, the General Assembly, relentlessly badgered by two state senators over the objections of the few legislators on both sides of the aisle who actually read the legislation, voted to grant special interests virtually unfettered permission to cut down trees on public property, including many paid for with tax dollars, without compensation to the public or any requirement for replanting, along an equivalent of 575 miles of publicly owned roadsides.

before new billboard cutting (To view illustrations of the impact of this new cutting click on  each of the the two images below,  the first showing trees above the freeway , the second showing the trees that would be eliminated.)

A judge in Georgia has already after new billboard cuttinggranted an injunction this type of cutting in that state until similar legislation is reviewed for constitutional issues also relevant in North Carolina.

The largely absentee owners of 8,000 outdoor billboards wallpapering  North Carolina’s highways, whose only property rights have been declared by  courts as “purely parasitic” because their only value is wholly reliant on traffic made possible by the the publicly owned roadways, will not be required to pay for the trees nor replant them elsewhere even though the public paid to plant them.

This travesty is that the outdoor billboard industry was already able under prior legislation to clear enough trees to be viewed.  This new legislation and administrative rules temporarily approved  will now permit  clear cutting of the equivalent of nearly 2 out of every 10 of the 5.3 million trees the North Carolina Department of Transportation has planted over the past several decades to mitigate the impact of roadways on storm water runoff and greenhouse gas emissions.

Rather than mitigating these “spillover costs”  to  unsuspecting taxpayers, known as externalities by economists, the new legislation  and administrative rules essentially  grant a public gratuity to private concerns that is prohibited under the state constitution.

Beyond the obvious aesthetic desecration and blight created by outdoor billboards, including what amounts to a free monopoly of view easements, just one of the many harmful effects or “spillover costs” of this tree cutting on the public by the outdoor billboard industry will be the equivalent of adding 4,000 for vehicles and 48 million miles of driving to the state’s roadways which will pollute the air annually with 3,212 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

It's fair to say that one of the drawbacks of a representative versus true democracy is that far too many bills such as this are passed over the the objection of the vast majority of citizens, not on the basis of thorough scrutiny, but through the push and shove of internal power politics fueled by special interests who in turn provide the campaign contributions necessary for election.

This tendency by many elected representatives to make decisions based on “ who‘s asking” among colleagues rather than the merits of what's being asked is at the center of why many experts, including the acclaimed clinical economist Jeffrey Sachs in his just published book The Price of Civilization,  believe that so much of public policy fails to follow the core American values of fairness,  sustainability  and efficiency.

To learn more about the overreaching issues involved with this new legislation to benefit the outdoor billboard industry, click on this link to see some of the excellent visuals supporting arguments presented to the Rules Commission by Ryke Longest, a senior lecturing fellow and the director of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Duke University Law school.


Anonymous said...


How do we stop this?

Occupy something? Camp out in the forests fringing our interstates?

Valerie Phillips said...

Clear cutting 700,000 publicly owned trees is very surprising. Trees are very healthy in the environment and I don't think cutting hundreds and thousand of trees is no good.

long island tree care