Virginia property owners and business owners who have joined with average citizens to challenge the power and influence of the environmental movement have been on a roll both politically and legislatively in recent years, despite being heavily outspent.
Just how large is the disparity between average citizens who favor property rights and green activists who favor more regulations?
The Institute for Energy Research, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that favors free-market solutions for energy policy, has released a new database called “Big Green Inc.” that details how much money and organization stands behind the environmental movement on a state-by-state basis.
Since 2008, more than $80 million has been pumped into the coffers of various Virginia-based environmental groups from some of the largest foundations in the country, according to Big Green. By comparison, green groups in neighboring Maryland have received about $16 million from some of the same foundations, while green groups in North Carolina have received about $10 million. For whatever reason, Virginia appears to sit at the epicenter of environmental activism.
Yet, under Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, citizen activists secured two pieces of legislation bolstering property rights after calling out well-funded land trusts for abusing the terms and conditions of conservation programs. The bills are named after Martha Boneta, who owns and operates the Liberty Farm located in the Paris, Va., section of Fauquier County. Boneta has been involved in a high-profile legal dispute with the Piedmont Environmental Council, a nonprofit land trust headquartered in the county.
A key turning point in the Boneta case came on Nov. 6, 2014, when dozens of property rights activists from across the state turned out in force during a board meeting of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation held at the General Assembly building in Richmond. During the public comment period, residents expressed their support for Boneta and their dissatisfaction with how the PEC has operated. Footage of a demonstration outside the General Assembly prior to the meeting is available here.
Boneta 1 imposes limits on zoning regulations that were widely viewed as disruptive and burdensome to farming while Boneta Bill 2 provides landowners with the ability to ask for government officials to step in and mediate any disputes they have with land trusts.
Boneta, who also serves as an adviser to the Trump White House on energy policy, has filed litigation against the PEC that claims the land trust has exceeded its authority under the state’s conservation program to the point where it has been trespassing across her property. Boneta has also accused the environmental group of colluding with Fauquier County government officials to issue zoning citations against her property. She’s filed a separate suit against the county.
Boneta was an early supporter of Denver Riggleman, a Virginia distillery owner who was elected to Congress as a Republican in this year’s midterm elections. Riggleman defeated a former board member of the Piedmont Environmental Council who was running as a Democrat. Campaign records available at OpenSecrets.org show that Riggleman’s opponent had a significant financial advantage.
“We won this election because we were able to hold the Piedmont Environmental Council responsible and to expose them as bad actors,” Boneta said in an interview. “They steal liberty and they attack property rights. There are a lot of people in Virginia who know how the PEC operates, which is one reason why a candidate with close ties to their organization lost.”
But what has been accomplished in the General Assembly and at the ballot box has not yet been matched legally. Boneta did reach a settlement with a husband-wife real estate team who are part of the PEC. But her litigation against the land trust itself was dismissed by the Fauquier County Circuit Court.
The PEC tells its side of the story in a detailed online posting that responds to Boneta’s allegations. But the posting also makes it clear that Boneta’s case could ultimately wind up before the Virginia Supreme Court.
“I am going to refile my lawsuit against the Piedmont Environmental Council,” Boneta said. “I also just recently unsuited my case against the county, but we will be refiling that one as well and we will be doing it with the same charges and possibly some new ones.”
Details about her previous lawsuits against the PEC and county government officials are available here. Boneta would not elaborate further on the timing and content of her plans to file a new round of litigation against environmental activists. But the donations to the PEC that can be viewed at Big Green Inc. show that the land trust has the financial wherewithal to endure court room costs.
“The Environmental Left likes to portray itself as a modern-day David battling the mighty fossil fuel giants in an epic struggle to save our dying planet,” Tom Pyle, the president of IER, said in a press release. “While it may be compelling, this narrative is simply false. “The truth is the Environmental Left is a deep-pocketed and powerful force in American politics that is working to stop all natural gas, oil, and coal production in the United States. And they have a strong ally in the mainstream media, which all-too-often has become a cheerleader for their harmful agenda.”Law