Federal Green Police Enforce Marine Natural Resource Regulations (badly)
Agents from NOAA … along with the Fish and Wildlife Service, raided the Miami business of Morgan Mok in 2008, seeking evidence she had broken the Endangered Species Act trading in coral.
The agents had assault rifles with them, and the case documents indicated her house and business records had been under surveillance over a six-month period, says Ms. Mok. Under the 1973 law, the departments of Interior and Commerce (home to NOAA) must write regulations to define what is endangered and how it must be protected. One of those regulations specifies coral.
“I felt like I was being busted for drugs, instead of coral,” Ms. Mok says. “It was crazy.”
Ms. Mok says she showed that her coral had been properly obtained. She paid a $500 fine and served one year of probation for failing to complete paperwork for an otherwise legal transaction.
How should federal fisheries regulations be enforced? Are separate federal police forces really required to chase down accused coral thieves? Reforming federal marine natural resource policies so enforcement is handled through state and local police forces and courts could save money, support federalism, and allow local communities and courts more involvement in federal environmental and marine natural resource policies.
Enforcement issues are generally separate from the question of what federal fisheries regulations should be, and separate again from questions of who should be proposing and passing fisheries regulations. For a government to be just, it requires the consent of the governed. How is that consent given for federal environmental and marine natural resource regulations? For regulations that dictate marine natural resource policies, local law enforcement and court systems with jury trials would allow one kind of consent. Most regulations for marine natural resource policies are not written by, voted on, or passed by state or federal legislators. Instead marine natural resource regulations are written by the staff of federal agencies like the EPA, often under pressure from environmental organizations (as well as industry lobbyists).
When fisheries regulations are complex and hundreds of pages long, they are not widely understood by citizens who can easily find themselves in violation of arcane dictates they never knew existed. One safeguard on arbitrary legislation and regulations are local juries who find it hard to convict people of violating regulations they themselves find vague, confusing, or arbitrary.
In a time of significant federal deficits and budget cutting, why not cut costs by eliminating the federal fisheries police. Let federal agencies work with state and local police forces, and with local judges.
Why not–here’s a interesting idea–have federal environmental and fisheries regulations enforced within state and local court systems, where local juries can review federal prosecutions against accused coral thieves and other claimed environmental wrongdoers.
Consider the case of federal green police from the Army Corps of Engineers in this Heritage Fd. post:
Ocie and Carey Mills, a father and son, had always wanted to live on the water. They bought waterfront property in Escambia Bay, Florida, where they planned to build a home for the extended family to enjoy together. Inspectors from the State of Florida inspected the property, and the Millses obtained all of the state and local permits that were required to build the house.
Once the Millses began filling a ditch with sand for what was to be the foundation of their home, the Army Corps of Engineers got involved, declaring the Mills’ dry property a “wetland” and charged them with violating the Clean Water Act.
The fact that Florida officials had declared that the property was not a wetland was no defense in the federal prosecution. The Millses were convicted and each served 21 months in prison.
Many environmental laws do not require intent to break the law, merely intent of certain conduct, to warrant prosecution. This means that if you reasonably are mistaken on what the law allows, it doesn’t matter: You’re still going to jail. (Source.)
It is time to pull the plug on the federal government’s Green Police.