The Unholy Alliance Between Radical Environmentalists and Land Developers

by | Jun 5, 2022 |

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It all began when Bruce Yandle served a stint as the Executive Director of the Federal Trade Commission where in 1983 he voiced an opinion in Regulation Magazine as to the historical unholy alliance between Bootleggers and Baptists in the old South. He then wrote a full-length article published in the same magazine in 1999 and reprinted in 2011.

In fact, the collusion of apparently high-minded values and narrow commercial interests thrives still today.

The essence of the theory is that social regulation occurs best if it is supported by groups with very different interests. In the old South Baptists” promoted regulation against alcohol on Sundays so more parishioners might attend church. Bootleggers supported it as it cut out legal alcohol on Sundays leaving less competition for them.  

When a community gives vocal endorsement to public benefits promised by the desired regulation and a less visible group expects to profit from the regulation and gives financial support, it can have smooth sailing to its passage.

Yandle’s initial paper stated, “The theorys name (Bootleggers and Baptists) draws on colorful tales of statesefforts to regulate alcoholic beverages by banning Sunday sales at legal outlets. Baptists fervently endorsed such actions on moral grounds. Bootleggers tolerated the actions gleefully because their effect was to limit competition.”

B&B theory explains how consumer groups have helped pharmaceutical companies with already approved drugs by supporting a slow FDA approval process. Similarly, holders of permits to market EPA-approved insecticides value the efforts of environmental groups who oppose rule changes that facilitate the entry of new products. Indeed, once the theory is explained, bootleggers and Baptists seem to come out of the woodwork. They are everywhere.

Yandle describes its success in his paper as follows:

“Political action, which by definition always serves some interest groups, requires politicians to appeal to popular icons. By making a Baptist” appeal, the canny politician enables voters to feel better by endorsing socially accepted values in the voting booth. The same politician, if he is adroit, also can enjoy the support of appreciative bootleggers in the costly struggle to hold office. Bootleggers and Baptists are part of the glue that binds the body politic.”               

An understanding of this unfortunate combination of power, generally not in the best interest of the public, has been made known to TV viewers of the popular episodic program YELLOWSTONE. It is not my cup of tea but evidently a hit throughout the US. In the first episode, at the very beginning, a horse is shot in front of the viewers’ eyes and at the end, the leading man, Kevin Costner buries his son after a shooting that killed his other sons’ brother-in-law.

The Winter 2021 issue of PERC’s magazine focuses entirely on the TV series describing the many accurate depictions of life in the Western US. It describes conflicts between farmers and ranchers and big-city developers over land and water rights. It does a very good, though an overly dramatic job of explaining the west to those back East.

One excellent article by Andrew P. Morris, a professor at Texas A & M University, describes a fictional but accurate conflict that perfectly portrays a real-life example of the Bootlegger and Baptist coalition. 

In fictional YELLOWSTONE developer, Dan Jenkins hires a lawyer for hire (like gun) Melanie Prescott to outsmart the state’s largest rancher John Dutton. He had dynamited a stream to move it away from Jenkins’s land. She reaches out to multiple environmental organizations to try and find threatened species on Dutton’s land which being close to Yellowstone Park appears quite possible. She outlines a plan to ensnare Dutton in a regulatory morass. Jenkins offers the nearby tribal chief a share in his hotel if he will join the cabal against Dutton.

Jenkins comes off as a classic regulatory bootlegger who cares not at all about trout or grizzlies as Professor Morris tells us, and the environmentalists share his desire to sue Dutton over diverting the stream and endangering threatened species if they can find them.

This author had significant experience lobbying against the endangered species act in the 1970s. Anyone knowledgeable about regulations to protect the environment and animals whose futures are threatened by humans knew this law was doomed with unintended consequences from the beginning. It allowed environmental radicals and bootleggers with their own agenda to use the law to thwart anything they did not like in their area.  

The law played loose with what is defined as a species, sometimes using color as defining a species. The law gave no incentive for land owners to protect animals, leaving them to shoot, shovel, and shut up if it finds a potentially endangered species for fear of losing control over their land as many have. Proof of the law’s ineffectiveness is that in its first 25 years in force ⏤ only 29 of 1138 species listed as endangered were removed from that list.

It would have been far better to focus on protecting the animal habitat rather than the animal itself and to have given incentives to land owners to protect an animal’s habitat. While the protection of animals would benefit from a rewrite of the law, it will never happen as all environmental groups would scream at the potential loss of their power.

Morris, a true environmentalist, concludes his article about these unholy alliances by stating, “Disrupting such coalitions by shining light on those details can limit the use of regulation for rent-seeking and focus it on genuine public purposes. In short, it can help ensure that endangered species regulation is about saving endangered species rather than smoothing the way for subdivisions or hotel-casino complexes in wilderness areas.”

Dr. Jay Lehr

Dr. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute. He is an internationally renowned scientist, author, and speaker who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government and many foreign countries. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he received the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

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