Tennessee lawmakers passed a resolution Thursday condemning a United Nations environmental plan as a “destructive and insidious” effort to advance a communist agenda through the guise of community planning.
The state House of Representatives voted 72-23 in favor of House Joint Resolution 587, which denounces the non-binding Agenda 21 plan adopted by a United Nations environmental conference two decades ago.
The plan called on members of the United Nations to adopt sustainable development principles to alleviate poverty and combat global warming. But the resolution approved by Tennessee lawmakers on Thursday depicts it as a plan for the “socialist/communist redistribution of wealth” through energy conservation policies, zoning restrictions and forced abortions.
“It reads well. It has nice words like sustainability and helping the poor,” said state Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin. “But what these people want to do is they want to cap the number of people this planet can have. … So ladies and gentlemen, if that doesn’t bother you, if those words don’t scare you, we’ve got to talk.”
Little known even in environmental and planning circles until recently, Agenda 21 has grabbed the attention of conservative groups, who say the document calls on national and local governments to pursue environmental goals by limiting property rights and freedom.
Environmental groups, in turn, believe the resolution is part of a broad-based effort to roll back or prevent planning and zoning.
Agenda 21 was developed at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The proposal was meant to address problems such as overpopulation, global warming and Third World poverty, but it had largely been forgotten until groups such as the Republican National Committee and the John Birch Society began to link it to zoning decisions and other local government actions that they say limit property rights.
State Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, pointed to policies such as a Cocke County proposal to ban building on ridgetops and a Rutherford County demand that a business owner pave his parking lot as examples of Agenda 21 put to action.
Casada, meanwhile, said the plan’s focus on sustainability could be used to justify forced abortions in the interest of controlling population growth.
Opponents mocked the resolution.
“Boy that’s … whoo! Insidious! Communist! Socialist!” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said. “I didn’t know what Agenda 21 was, to be honest with you. … I really want to learn about this Agenda 21.”
Seven Democrats joined the House’s 64 Republicans and one independent in voting for the measure, and the resolution’s 33 co-sponsors gathered in the well of the House of Representatives when it was introduced.
Supporters said the resolution would send a message that Tennesseans oppose the actions and principles behind Agenda 21.
“It really is a problem that many Tennesseans do know about,” the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, told reporters later. “The responses we’ve received — emails, letters, phone calls, petitions signed by hundreds of Tennesseans saying, ‘Please protect us.’ That’s what we were elected to do.”
Neither the House resolution nor the UN plan it opposes are binding, and supporters have not shown a direct link from the plan drafted in Brazil in the early 1990s to decisions made by local governments in Tennessee 20 years later.
But they said government entities such as the courts, the Environmental Protection Agency and zoning boards could be carrying out the plan.
“It basically says in the 288-page document that they can take your land,” he said. “They don’t name names. They don’t name a czar over this. But if in fact it’s there, we don’t want it to come into our borders.”
Two other states, Georgia and New Hampshire, have considered anti-Agenda 21 measures this year. Brooks said the resolution had been promoted by the RNC.
But the measure matches up nearly word-for-word with a model posted on the website of the John Birch Society, a conservative group that Republicans have largely shunned since the 1960s, Turner said.
“It’d almost be funny if it wasn’t so sad that so many people buy into this,” he said. “Elected officials actually think there’s a communist behind every tree. … At one time, I used to think they tried to put this on just to keep people stirred up, but I think some of their people actually believe that.”
Brooks said the John Birch Society played no role in drafting the resolution.
Still, Jim Sandman, state coordinator for the organization, attended Thursday’s vote and praised the resolution.
“It just gives a sense to Congress where Tennesseans feel on this threat from sustainable development policies,” he said. “Private property and freedom are inseparable, and when there’s a threat against private property.... It’s already happening, some of it.”
Contact Chas Sisk at 615-259-8283 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @chassisk.