How Liberty Saves the Environment (Part 1: Ending Sovereign Immunity)

Who’s the greatest polluter of all? The oil companies? The chemical companies? The nuclear power plants?

If you guessed “none of the above” you’d be correct. Our government, at the federal, state, and local levels, is the single greatest polluter in the land. In addition, our government doesn’t even clean up its own garbage!

In 1988, for example, the EPA demanded that the Departments of Energy and Defense clean up 17 of their weapons plants which were leaking radioactive and toxic chemicals-enough contamination to cost $100 billion dollars in clean-up costs over 50 years! The EPA was simply ignored. No bureaucrats went to jail or were sued for damages. Government departments have sovereign immunity.

The U.S. military has become the greatest toxic threat to all of us. Thousands of sites at home and abroad are now highly contaminated by the heavy metals used in bombs and bullets, jet fuel, toxic chemicals, and radioactive waste. Groundwater at military bases and surrounding metropolitan areas (e.g., Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Denver, and Sacramento) are so contaminated that perchlorate, a toxin used to make the military’s solid rocket fuel, is now found in high concentrations in over 90% of the country’s lettuce and human breast milk.

The U.S.military is the largest single owner/renter/leaser of land in the world. The contamination on military bases has caused popular resistance to U.S. troops. The aquifer in Germany supplying Frankfurt’s water has been contaminated by 300,000 gallons of toxic jetfuel leakage. Poisoning the wells of our allies won’t win us many friends. In 2001, the people on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques voted to evict the U.S. military. The Navy left behind thousands of barrels and compressed gas cylinders, which were sunk close to the island’s coral reefs. The toxins are now leaking into the North Atlantic and have been found in the marine life there.

In 1984, a Utah court ruled that the U.S. military was negligent in its nuclear testing, causing serious health problems (e.g. death) for the people exposed to radioactive fallout. The Court of Appeals dismissed the claims of the victims, because government employees have sovereign immunity. By 1997, more than 250,000 Americans had been exposed to dangerous levels of nuclear fallout, and up to 75,000 may face an early death from thyroid cancer as a result.

Hooker Chemical begged the Niagara Falls School Board not to excavate the land where Hooker had safely stored toxic chemical waste. Hooker had sold the land to the School Board for $1 when it threatened to condemn the property. The school board ignored Hooker’s warnings. Consequently, taxpayers had to foot a $30 million relocation bill when health problems arose. The EPA filed suit, not against the reckless school board, but against Hooker Chemical! Government officials have sovereign immunity.

Government, both federal and local, is the greatest single polluter in the U.S. This polluter literally gets away with murder because of sovereign immunity. Libertarians would make government as responsible for its actions as everyone else is expected to be. Part of the libertarians plan to protect the environment is to abolish sovereign immunity.

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