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Groundless fear of Agenda 21

Published March 2, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Senate has now passed a resolution to urge state and local governments to reject United Nations Agenda 21.

According to the bill, the Legislature has targeted Agenda 21 because it supposedly seeks to "infringe or restrict private property rights without due process," and encourages sustainable development which "views private property ownership, single family homes, private car ownership, individual travel choices, and privately owned farms as destructive to the environment" and encourages "regional visioning projects."

Having taught international environmental law at both Utah law schools, and as one who has read Agenda 21, I am convinced that Senate Joint Resolution 11 misconstrues the purpose and legal effect of Agenda 21 and unfairly vilifies land-use planning.

While I may disagree with particular policy recommendations within Agenda 21, no one familiar with it could seriously argue that Agenda 21 represents a conspiracy to destroy our nation's sovereignty and replace its democratic institutions with a U.N.-controlled world government that will confiscate our private property and automobiles, and force us to live in high-rise apartments.

Adopted in 1992 by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Agenda 21 provides general recommendations to policy makers to simultaneously promote economic growth and improve quality of life, achieve energy conservation, poverty reduction, and environmental protection.

It is not legally binding and has no enforcement mechanism. Its preamble emphasizes that it can only be implemented through "consensus" and "cooperation," and that "successful implementation is first and foremost the responsibility of Governments."

Agenda 21 received unanimous passage by the leaders of all 178 countries participating in the 1992 U.N. Rio Conference, including President George H.W. Bush.

Is the Utah Legislature suggesting that we don't need land-use planning based on quality-growth objectives such as those advocated by the Governor's Quality Growth Commission?

Utah has received accolades for planning associated with the Downtown Rising Project, its transit system and freeway expansions.

Utah enjoys a long and proud tradition of visionary urban and land-use planning dating back to Brigham Young's use of Joseph Smith's City of Zion Plat, which the American Institute of Certified Planners awarded the prestigious National Planning Landmark Award in 1996 for "establishing a continuing commitment to the building of well-planned and culturally nurturing cities."

Is the Legislature's position that private property rights are absolute and can never be restricted through land-use controls?

Virtually all states prohibit a person from buying a lot adjacent to a church or school and building a strip joint or strip mine. Restrictions on the unfettered exercise of private property rights are a cost of living in a civil society that protects children and ensures the safety and livability of neighborhoods.

Thoughtful regional planning by local governments and state agencies is also vital to accommodating future growth and expanding transportation infrastructure.

Does the Legislature believe that we can ignore the environment? This winter's unhealthy air suggests that we do so at our peril.

Should we ignore our responsibility to exercise good stewardship over the land and natural resources? Brigham Young repeatedly warned against the wasteful exploitation of natural resources: "Keep your valley pure, keep your towns as pure as you possibly can, keep your hearts pure… . It is not our privilege to waste the Lord's substance."

We need legislators who will thoughtfully examine the pressing issues of our time, explore legislative solutions based on bipartisanship, good science, and sound public policy, and who avoid the temptation and distraction of message bills like SJR11.

Craig D. Galli is a partner in the Salt Lake office of a law firm representing commercial and industrial clients. He is also an adjunct professor at Brigham Young University's law school. The opinions expressed are his own.