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One deleted word

The Clean Water Restoration Act came out of committee in June with little fanfare. However, it sent shockwaves through the cattle industry and others likely to be directly affected by it.

The concern was over an amendment that removed the word “navigable” from in front of the word “water.” That opened up the ability of the federal government to begin to regulate any water, perhaps even as minor as stock tanks, drainage ditches and ponds. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) called it “the largest federal land grab in history.”

It seems absurd that such legislation would have a chance of passing, but private property rights ever since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v. City of New London largely exist only as a bedrock of capitalism in our minds and in history books.

That June 2005 decision, which passed by a 5-4 vote with liberal-leaning Justices John Stevens, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and Anthony Kennedy voting “yes,” yanked the rug on private property rights in the U.S. It broadened the definition of “public use” in eminent domain proceedings, making it possible for local government to force property owners to sell out to other private owners.

Previously, such eminent domain actions were made only for public-use projects like roads, bridges, or land for schools or parks. The decision broadened “public use” to give local government the wink to redistribute private property if the government decides it's a good deal — for itself.

Since then, the nationalization in the last few months of large segments of our economy, and the proposal to either nationalize or super-regulate other segments, haven't caused more than a voice or two to be raised in concern. The political winds are such that these slaps against capitalism and free enterprise aren't merely tolerated but welcomed.

Some argue these fundamental changes were included in the stimulus package, to everyone's ignorance (we know our politicians didn't even bother to read it). Or, that there are bigger issues to worry about.

Bunk! Sure, most of the ramifications of the Troubled Asset Relief Program weren't understood, but when the NCBA is almost singular in its concern about the federal government usurping state and private property rights by taking control of all water, the signs are indeed ominous for the huge expansion of federal government that's coming.

Troy Marshall is a seedstock producer and contributing editor to BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly, an electronic newsletter distributed every Friday afternoon. Sign up for a free subscription at

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