Monday, February 16, 2009

Banning Live Oaks

I must admit that when I heard that Houston's city council is considering a ban on Live Oaks, my mouth began watering for a fight. If they want to ban my blog, they have finally exposed themselves for the tyrants they are. However I was wrong--it is not my blog that they want to ban, but the trees.

Houston city council is considering banning live oaks and other tall trees under power lines. Council member and "quality of life" Queen Sue Lovell said:

Power lines are not an appropriate place for a live oak. And I don’t think taking an incredibly majestic tree like a live oak and pruning it around power lines, is the right way to treat something so beautiful.

I don't think city council is an appropriate place for would-be dictators, but there you go. Lovell, who normally insists on forcing people to plant trees or protect those already in place, apparently isn't content to simply force people to plant trees. She now wants to mandate what kind of trees.

Lovell and Mayor Bill White contend that this ban will reduce pruning costs of trees near power lines. Since those costs are passed on to electricity consumers, they argue that this prohibition will save people money.

While this measure may save consumers money, so what? The purpose of government is to protect our rights, not our wallet. They could save us money by prohibiting us from driving certain days of the week, or forcing us to keep our thermostats at 85 degrees in the summer, or a myriad other things. If saving consumers money is a valid justification for violating the rights of the citizens, then city council has carte blanche.

And if saving us money is really their concern, what about the taxes and fees taken from us by force? What about the economic impact of regulations on land-use and energy conservation? These have been documented to cost consumers significant amounts of money. Yet, city council continues to rape and pillage Houstonians.

Supporters of the ban point to the damage done to power lines during Hurricane Ike; critics argue that other trees were the culprit.

During Hurricane Ike, thousands of tall pines and majestic water, willow, red and post oaks toppled into power lines, wreaking carnage on the city’s electric system.

One kind of tree, however, added nothing to our misery: the venerable live oak, the glory of South Main and a genetically programmed hurricane survivor. This species defies hurricanes in its native coastline habitats from Virginia through the Carolinas, Florida and around to the Central Texas coast. It survives hurricanes in an inland location like Houston even better.

Critics--or at least this one--don't have a problem with the fact that the proposed ban violates the rights of property owners. They oppose it because they like live oaks. They don't have a problem using force to achieve their desires; they just don't like this particular use of force.

The author of the article cited above is a former executive with CenterPoint. He implies that the power company may be behind this ban.

So what is the problem now? Well, trees buckle sidewalks. Of course, trees do this whether there is a power line nearby or not, so that can’t be the answer. So only one explanation remains: CenterPoint is tired of spending money to trim trees.

A basic principle of business is that customers pay for the expenses incurred by the business. Of course, CenterPoint isn't a typical business--it is heavily regulated by the state. It is expected to deliver power, or else. But the costs of delivering that power are socialized--they are spread among all customers because CenterPoint cannot "discriminate". It cannot charge customers who need more maintenance for that maintenance.

Whether CenterPoint is behind this or not is really irrelevant. City officials think that they have a moral right to dictate what citizens plant in their back yard. They have no such right. Any issues regarding trees and power lines are between CenterPoint and its customers. Both the city and the state should allow each party to address these issues privately and voluntarily.

But government officials will not do this. When faced with a perceived conflict between the moral and the practical, they will always choose the moral. When faced with a perceived conflict between the "general welfare" and the rights of individuals, their moral code--altruism--dictates that they sacrifice the individual to the collective. Altruism demands that the "public good" supersede the good of any individual.

Years ago, Eleanor Tinsley led the charge to outlaw Chinese Tallows, because she regarded them as "trash trees". Now Queen Lovell wants to ban another type of tree because of some alleged public threat. Both made a career out of "quality of life" issues. Both believe that their vision of "quality of life" should be imposed on me. Both believe that they have a right to tell me what to plant in my back yard.

As I write this, I am looking out my office window at the six live oaks in my back yard. They are my trees, not Sue Lovell's, or Mayor White's, or "the public's". If I choose to plant more, I have a moral right to do so. While I have no need or desire for more live oaks, I may plant one just as a matter of principle.

No comments: