Traverse City Record-Eagle

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On Regulations

We are told by the business community that they are over regulated, that if business just had fewer regulations the economy would improve and we’d all be richer. Maybe; we certainly have some foolish regulations. For example if you import woolen goods, the duty on knit goods is much higher than the duty on woven goods—and if there are any little logo-style decorations on a garment the duty goes up about 20%. On the other hand if you import the logos in the same package with your jackets and sew them on here, that’s OK. I know about this because I was once in the import business. I’m sure there are many other regulations foisted on an unsuspecting public. Many of these are pushed by industry “A” to benefit themselves and punish their rivals.  The winner may depend on who has the best lobbyists.

Other regulations would seem to be a no-brainer—literally. Our governor has signed legislation to remove the helmet requirement for most motorcyclists. If you are sufficiently experienced and have taken out a $20,000 accident insurance policy you can ride without a helmet. If you have any sort of serious accident, one that costs more than your insurance coverage, guess who pays for the difference. Of course there will be more Harley donors. These are not people who donate Harleys; these are people so badly hurt in accidents that they are kept alive artificially, so they, or their relatives, often donate critical organs to those who need them. Better requirements for helmet-less riding would be a $100,000 accident policy and a signed organ donor card. As the right wing like to say, “Freedom is never free.”

The Environmental Protection Agency and more specifically the Clean Air Act is the very favorite right wing target to bash right now. Ironically this target of conservative and libertarian outrage was started by President Richard Nixon, who was not a notable liberal. The EPA and the CAA are particularly detested by the coal industry. The coal industry has more than twenty different affiliated groups and organizations all lobbying to promote that industry’s interests. They spend about $400 million just on lobbying. That doesn’t count the money spent on trying to convince the public of their saintliness through TV ads. Of course you remember a recent one showing an electric plug going into a lump of coal reminding you that cheap coal means cheap electricity.

The industry tells us that coal will be a much cheaper fuel if we just get rid of all those useless CAA requirements. The CAA wants coal burners to install scrubbers to remove mercury and other nasty stuff from coal smoke. It’s expensive to do that so it makes coal more costly to use as a fuel which reduces the earnings of the coal companies and that reduces the value of their executive’s stock options. That’s awful!

The industry would also like to reduce the mine safety regulations. These cost the industry dearly as well. Just a couple of years ago a mine super decided to disconnect some safety stuff and 29 miners were killed in a methane explosion. This super is in the pokey where he should be. By way, the UAW, that evil union, also employs lobbyists. Last year they spent over $400,000; that is about 1% of the money spent by the coal industry.

I have more than a passing acquaintance with the coal industry. When I was a kid I lived in the hard coal country. We had a creek that flowed through the middle of our small town. The water was black so it was called black creek. The water was black because it was filled with water pumped out of local coal mines. Coal mines are mostly below the water table so they fill up with water and mining can’t occur unless the water is pumped out, so it is pumped out; right into the local creeks. That doesn’t help the fishing. It’s better now seventy years later, and there is even a booming kayaking industry on that same creek. Regulations sometimes work you know.

I also lived in the soft coal strip mining country in western Pennsylvania. In strip mining you buy up some farm land under which you believe is coal. Then you come in with power shovels and strip the 50 to 100 feet of dirt (overburden) off the coal. You dig out the coal, sell it and then move on to the next section of land where you repeat the process. Naturally you leave behind rows of dirt overburden. These are mounds 50 to 100 feet high on which nothing will grow because they’re devoid of topsoil. These rows of overburden can stretch for miles. Sometimes interestingly colored water collects at the base of these mounds and we kids ice skated on them when they froze over in the winter. Needless to say we didn’t swim in them and they had no fish or any other living thing in them.

There was a move to force the coal companies to level off those mounds, bring in topsoil and reclaim things. Coal companies fought the regulations because that would have made coal much too expensive and would have killed the industry. (Sort of like the smoke scrubbers the CAA is pushing for now.) Of course the regulations passed and all those mounds have been leveled off and planted and the industry hasn’t collapsed. That was 50 years ago.

Skip to the 1950s in Pittsburgh. Yes, I lived there then. There is a beautiful 400 acre park, Schenley Park, just adjacent to the Carnegie Tech and Pitt campuses. A lovely place to go and sit on the grass, but if you sat directly on the grass you’d get up with black streaks on your pants from the ever present coal soot.The same thing happened with all the benches at bus stops. No one in Pittsburgh ever sat down outside without putting down a newspaper or a blanket first. A white shirt you put on at six in the morning will have a black streak on the collar by six at night. It’s not that way anymore. The Clean Air Act has changed all that.

If you would like a demonstration of the difference the Clean Air Act makes, spend a month in Athens or Istanbul in August or nearly any Chinese city nearly any time. Just be careful not to breathe deeply. The last time I was in Athens a dozen people had been sent to the hospital three days earlier with respiratory problems. The Greeks typically hold off announcing things like that. Tourists you know. In fact you needn’t go all the way to Athens; San Jose, Costa Rica will do just fine. It’s a lovely city if you don’t breathe deeply.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the coal industry. Let’s think about the state’s regulations of the restaurant industry. How about those inspectors who come around looking for evidence of rodents; hey what’s wrong with a few mouse droppings in your salad? Just look the salad over carefully before you eat it. Once all the droppings are out it’ll be fine. What you don’t see won’t hurt you. Does the refrigeration system really have to keep food that cold? Why does the dishwashing system have to have the water over 180 degrees F? So there’ a little breakfast egg yolk on your dinner dish. Don’t be picky, just scrape it off. If that offends you, next time pick a different restaurant.

Isn’t it interesting that these regulation haters are now clamoring for more regulations to control voter fraud? Picture IDs are suddenly required to prevent voter fraud in Pennsylvania which has had not one case of voter fraud in their last statewide election. This regulation will disenfranchise many minorities and so we have Jim Crow right back among us. You see, not all regulations are useless.

OK maybe this is overkill. Those who hate regulations will not be convinced no matter how many examples I give. That is because they are not convincible. Very few people change their minds about much of anything except maybe what to have for lunch.

  • jeff4

    well said Henry, bring on the environmental regulations!!  I wish you’d have chimed in on our debate over the frontage on west Bay – http://blogs.record-eagle.com/?p=4907  – we need regulations to keep the environmental clean, safe, and UNlike the places you mention.

  • http://www.thearmchairconservative.com Troy Keith

    Hooray for Nixon?  Hard to believe that many people would be against basic, common sense regulations in modern society but even you, Henry, have to admit that things have gotten completely out of control?  Yes, we all want clean air and water – even Conservatives & Libertarians believe it or not, but we don’t need gov’t intruding into virtually every facet of our existence.  There’s a difference between keeping mouse droppings out of our salads and a law in Missouri making it a crime to drive with an uncaged bear in your car.

    According to Politifact, speaking about the Federal Register, “Of the 81,405 pages published in 2010, 46,758 were dedicated to rules or proposed rules. Another 34,306 pages contained notices of federal agency hearings, meetings, investigations, decisions and the like. And 611 pages were presidential documents – things like executive orders and presidential proclamations.”

    • Henry

      As I said there are many foolish laws; I cited several. Others are laws (almost) everyone agrees with; it’s those in between we have trouble with. So where do you stand on the motorcycle helmet law? Where do you stand on special seats for babies riding in cars? Where do you stand on seat belt laws, on speed limits?
       We can all site laws which everyone agrees are ridiculous; that doesn’t help is decide which laws to keep and which to discard. Giving examples is easy;deciding is hard.

      • http://www.thearmchairconservative.com Troy Keith

        Well here’s another one to throw into the mix.. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/13-year-old-and-family-behind-mi-hot-dog-stand-now-homeless-and-govt-regs-continue-to-strain-income/

        As far as your questions go, I think that seat belts and helmets should be optional for adults but I also don’t feel that society should have to pick up the tab for poor decisions.  Additional insurance? The helmet issue is a little different because I think there are many studies showing that their effectiveness is questionable in most cases.  Maybe we should ban bikes and motorcycles..

        Children should be protected because they’re unable to do so for themselves – child seats, new driver restrictions etc. all good in my book.  Probably not towing the strict Libertarian line here but c’est la vie..

        • Henry

          I looked at your site with the poor little kid who couldn’t sell his hotdogs. We’ve just had a go round here you might have sited. Street vendors competing with downtown merchants who have to pay taxes. Guess you’re just fine with them doing that? Hardly a conservative position. Then on the helmet front…there really is a ton of evidence but you do have to look for it without crying ooohhh nanny state! And you haven’t talked about who pays the hospital bills…You want your own kids riding w/o a helmet? Wait a year until the acturial charts catch up. Meanwhile check this out:

          The Strib has seen and heard enough about motorcycle deaths and helmetless riders. In an editorial it says, “the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new report detailing how universal helmet laws save lives and provide economic benefits by, for example, preventing expensive and often taxpayer-provided medical care for injured motorcyclists. The report, which compiled evidence from multiple sources, said that helmet use in 2010 ‘saved the lives of 1,544 motorcyclists, and an additional 709 lives might have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.’ The report estimated $3billion in economic savings from helmet use in 2010. Minnesota Department of Public Safety statistics show that the majority of motorcyclists killed in Minnesota over the past decade were not wearing helmets. A total of 574 Minnesotans have died in motorcycle accidents over the past 10 years. … It’s time for Minnesota to bring its helmet laws into the present. A universal helmet requirement should get a high-priority airing during the next legislative session. So should a proposal from state Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, that would require increased insurance coverage for helmet-less motorcyclists. Minnesota should be a leader, not a laggard, on this critical public health issue.” At this point curmudgeonly columnists and talk show hosts dig out their “nanny state” files. 

          • http://www.thearmchairconservative.com Troy Keith

            Yes Henry, increased insurance for those adults opting to make such decisions for themselves.  Seems like a reasonable solution.  According to the NHTSA, the effectiveness of helmets is rated at 37%.  Being a former rider myself, I’m not sure they’d offer much benefit except in low speed accidents but that’s probably debatable.  The question becomes, is it the role of our gov’t to make these decisions?  You’re getting older now, perhaps the state should start to regulate your diet and exercise regimen?

            “Poor little kid couldn’t sell his hotdogs”?  Doesn’t sound very compassionate.. Hope you’re not starting a ‘war on children’ here..

            Street vendors should pay for a one-time license and taxes for the income they receive from their efforts.

          • Henry

            No Troy, the republicans are the war starters. In the last half century there have been Kuwait, Panama, Grenada, Iraq and Afghanistan.
            Your’re the one who wanted to play on sympathy with the little kid. I guess the palm readers across from the bookstore weren’t sympathetic enough although they illustrate much the same principle.

          • http://www.thearmchairconservative.com Troy Keith

            Well that’s not really fair Henry.. the war drums were beating on both sides of the aisle as were the WMD chants.  Since that time we’ve doubled-down in Afghanistan, had that “questionable action” in Libya and launched a couple of hundred drone strikes into Pakistan.  Clinton had Kosovo and that intense raid in the aspirin factory but not much in comparison to recent activity.

            I wasn’t playing on sympathy, just pointing to another example of regulation doing more harm than good..

  • jeff4

    Troy, do you have a bear you like to drive around with uncaged?????????  Tell us more ;)

    • Bob

      Where do you think they went when the city closed the zoo.  Perhaps they will have the train set up soon out at at the engine show and TK can take the bears out for a train ride and cry about what we have lost.

  • Bob

    Let me tell my little local story of environmental regulation here in Michigan. The wife and I decided to move back up to the area and we must have looked at 25-30 houses. We finally found one on Whispering Hills just off of Bingham Road in Leelanau County. We put a bid in on it and had it accepted. They found that the old Fuel Oil tank on the place long since in disuse and replaced by natural gas had leaked. They had it inspected and had a large amount of soil removed and disposed of from the site after consultation with the MDEQ. After repeated delays waiting for the MDEQ we finally had to give up on the place and start the search for a home over. Not because we were worried about the contamination from the leak which had been minor to start with but rather due to concern that the problems with the MDEQ would never end. I felt bad for the poor Coastie living clear across the country trying to deal with it.  I am not sure how much it cost him in the end between “remediation” and legal fees but I suspect it was a significant portion of any equity he had in the place.

    Now Henry & Jeff you might look at this story and say see regulation is good look how it got that nasty fuel oil out of there.  Yet the problem was never any unwillingness on the part of the owner to clean up the spill. He went along with the MDEQ’s recommendation for the amount of soil that needed to be removed and disposed of even though it was a multiple of what the consultant he hired recommended. Yet even with that it went on endlessly and I have no idea how long it finally took the owner to resolve it as it was much longer than we could wait for.

    I used to drive back and forth down to Detroit for work often along the way on US 10 there was a billboard with a DEQ/Nazi implication.  I don’t know the details of what drove that billboard which couldn’t have been cheap but I can understand the frustration.

    http://telebunny.net/talkingtime/showthread.php?p=115006

  • Henry

    You may recall that the first paragraph of this piece recounted my experience with foolish regulations. Everyone has their favorite horror stories. Rational humans realize that some regulations are needed and this includes some EPA and CAA regulations. Romney opposes the reduction of Mercury and the installation of scrubbers. You think it’s hot this year, give us five more years of unrestricted coal burning. Even the Koch Bros. are getting the message.
     I waited to respond until everyone who wanted to comment had a shot. I haven’t time to answer more individual responses. My R-E contract doesn’t require it.

  • jeff4

    i think my nice comment was censored …

    • http://www.thearmchairconservative.com Troy Keith

      Jeff, my ability to moderate and see replies was taken away last week and I’m concerned that things might be missed so I wanted to follow up on your lost post. It looks like it was made 2 days ago and only approved today after you mentioned it again?

  • Bob

    I was born in 63 up in Petoskey, so not quite over 50 though I feel like it in the morning most days.   Ed here on the blog as well as my mom in the real world keep working on that second one but I fear they will be disappointed, and the shotgun which I do own is 50 miles away in my brother’s gun safe.

    We delayed 3 times before we backed out.  As a 3rd party to the issue I only know what I heard from the sellers real estate agent and the short phone call I had with the seller at the end. My impression was that after months of delay they still had no end in sight.  Like I said the issue was never the pollution which the seller took care of.  It was just a small residential fuel tank not some commercial storage facility or pipeline under a river.  Any guy with half a sense of smell and a pair of eyes could have managed the remediation, but the owner went along with the DEQ’s recommendation in any case. 

    How could I have been so dense as to not see right off that the only problem was that the DEQ needed more money to spend?

    • jeff4

      not sure why you dont realize the DEQ is underfunded.  but you’re right, they are.

  • jeff4

    yup, weird.  its up there now.

  • jeff4

    thank Gene, i agree.

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