International Land Designations Threaten Sovereignty, Usurp Powers Of Congress

WASHINGTON, DC June 3, 1997 – A proliferation of international treaties aimed at protecting the “global environment” are involving the United Nations increasingly in domestic land-use policies, according to Jeremy Rabkin, professor of government at Cornell University. In his just-released paper for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “The Yellowstone Affair,” Prof. Rabkin details the evolution of two important international land-designation instruments run by UNESCO — the World Heritage Convention and Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program.

“Such agreements may reinforce a mode of thinking that slights national sovereignty and discourages sound approaches to environmental protection,” says Prof. Rabkin.

The Yellowstone controversy arose in 1995 from a proposal to develop a Montana mining site, known as the New World Mine, three miles outside the boundaries of the park. Yellowstone Park has been declared both a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve by the UN. Environmental advocacy groups denounced the project and appealed to the World Heritage Committee, a UNESCO organ which administers the treaty. The UN agency declared the Park “in danger” as a result of the proposed mining operation. Subsequently, the mining company abandoned its effort to develop its property in the Yellowstone area, under intense pressure from the Clinton administration to trade its claim for other considerations.

The intervention of the UN in the dispute provoked outrage among local citizens and then among members of Congress representing Western states. The American Land Sovereignty Protection Act has been introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK) in the House of Representatives to require the consent of Congress before the President can submit any American site to international supervision. The legislation would rein in UNESCO's land designation programs, which Prof. Rabkin calls “a threat to the clarity of law.”

CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group dedicated to free markets and limited government. Copies of “The Yellowstone Affair: Environmental Protection, International Treaties, and National Sovereignty” can be obtained from CEI by calling (202) 331-1010.