DES MOINES — Some state lawmakers are concerned that an international effort promoting sustainable development might some day infringe on Iowans’ private property rights.
To make sure that doesn’t happen, Republicans on a House subcommittee Tuesday approved a measure that would prohibit state and local government officials from implementing or supporting elements of the United Nations’ Agenda 21 international environmental action plan if it would restrict private property rights. Along with the state of Iowa, House File 66 would apply to counties, cities, townships, school corporations, area education agencies, community colleges and certain public-private partnerships.
Rep. Ralph Watts, R-Adel, conceded that 98 out of 100 Iowans probably would not know what Agenda 21 is. But he said there is a movement under way that operates under the premise that humanity would be better off living in densely populated centers rather than spacious rural areas, posing a threat to Americans’ right to live where they choose versus where government wants them to live.
“I realize it won’t be very clear exactly what Agenda 21 means in all communities. But it’s here, alive and well in Iowa and in our country,” Watts told a subcommittee meeting. “There are some signals out there that we have to be concerned about. It’s very real. They literally want to see people move off of rural areas and into communities kind of like the collectivism that the Soviet Union has had.”
The product of the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil, Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan to sustainable development.
The implementation of Agenda 21, which refers to the 21st century, was intended to involve action at international, national, regional and local levels. Several state and local governments have considered or passed motions and legislation opposing Agenda 21, with Alabama becoming the first state to prohibit government participation.
“Is this really a solution in search of a problem?” asked Rep. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, the only subcommittee member not to support H.F. 66.
“Oh no, there’s a problem alright, but it’s hard to define,” Watts said.
“It’s kind of like defining pornography. I know it when I see it, but it’s hard to define,” he added.
Supporters of the measure pointed to a Tomorrow Plan collaborative effort in central Iowa aimed at coordinating land use planning, housing, flood prevention, transportation and other regional aspects of development as an example of something mirroring the Agenda 21 model. Bob Mulqueen of the Iowa Environmental Council said, however, that he has attended Tomorrow Plan discussions and they are geared toward smart land use planning and smart growth initiatives.
“I don’t know where they’re going with this,” Mulqueen said of the House bill. “Some people have some ideas that they pull out of the hat that I don’t know where they come from.”