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.