Letters: Businesses should pay for privilege of using public’s natural resources

Dick Barret

There’s no question about it: If the state of Montana insists on putting a highway through the parking lot of your business, it’s taking your private property and you must be compensated.

But supporters of SB 260 want you to believe that if the government tells you to stop polluting, for example, or otherwise harming the public interest, that’s a taking too, because your business is going to be worth less if you can’t pollute freely. It’s as though you had a private property right to pollute!

That’s clearly wrong. If the value of your business depends on your using a public resource – in this case, the natural environment – without paying for it, you have appropriated public property without compensation, and the public has no obligation to pay you for taking back what it already owns.

What this bill is really about is suppressing the government’s ability to make reasonable, needed regulations.  And the public interest be damned.

Supporters of SB260 should tread lightly: If they force the state, whenever it acts to protect the public interest, to compensate for the ancillary private damages to businesses, what’s to keep some other legislature from charging those same business for the ancillary private benefits they receive from similar state actions?

After all, isn’t a business worth a lot more to its owner when it can count on publicly provided roads and police protection, and publicly educated employees?  Maybe businesses that enjoy that enhanced value should be expected to pay for it.