How Government Regulations Cause More Problems Than They Solve - Part II

OK, so I misspoke about what Part 2 would be about. Originally I was going to cover energy, but thoughts and righteous indignation about the EPA overrode that plan.


One of the government agencies that has most recently caused FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) among business, and indirectly the people, is the EPA.

While it is the EPA's purview to help safeguard the environment, lately it has been going outside its mandate and trying to regulate economic activities it sees as affecting the environment. This is particularly vexing considering both Congress and the courts have told the EPA they do not have power to do so.

One of the EPA's latest 'crusades' involves energy. In this case making sure it is less available and far more costly. In particular they're trying to impose stricter regulations on the electric utilities and oil companies, bypassing the usual means of doing so and imposing them without the consent of Congress.

Jeff Holmstead, who directed the EPA's air and radiation office from 2001 to 2005 during the Republican President George W. Bush's administration, told the commission the new rules will quickly change policies that have been stable for 40 years. He called the new regulations an "unprecedented" amount of change for power companies.

Part of the problem is that some of the EPA's new rules overlap and contradict many existing rules, both its own and those of other governmental agencies and departments overseeing the energy industry. This leaves the power companies and oil exploration and drilling firms in a bind, making it impossible for them to be in compliance with all the rules and regulations imposed upon them. The EPA also ignores state rules and regulators rather than working with them, which only adds to the confusion.

This is a government agency that has gone rogue and believes it doesn't have to answer to anybody. It ignores the law, ignores the courts, ignores Congress, and ignores the Constitution. It believes it is above the law. It hands down edicts and expects everyone to follow them without question or dissent regardless of the effects on the economy or the environment.

Don't believe me? Then how about the EPA's efforts to 'clean up' the upper Hudson River in an attempt to remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) embedded in the silt at the bottom of the river? Their clean up has done far more harm than if they'd left things alone.

By ordering a dredging operation along 40 miles of the Hudson, the EPA has created a disaster of governmental proportions in this quiet upstate community. For six months in 2009, floating clamshell diggers shoveled day and night, pulling sludge from the river bottom around Fort Edward and depositing it onto barges. Six days a week, 24 hours a day, these barges, containing a total of 286,000 cubic yards of sediment mixed with old PCBs, were offloaded into that massive dewatering facility. There the soggy material was treated and squeezed in giant presses. The cakes of compacted sludge were then moved by truck onto 81-car trains, parked on a new spur of the Canadian Pacific Railway extending into the site. Five of these trains were in constant rotation, circulating the 4,400-mile round trip between the facility and the final dump site in Texas.

It was a Herculean attempt at remediation but one that actually increased PCB levels in the Hudson for a time; it also wreaked havoc on locals’ lives and imposed huge costs on General Electric. And all this work was only “Phase I” of the EPA’s plans. The government is now compelling GE to spend billions of dollars on Phase II, an even larger and longer operation. Dredging will recommence this spring.

And once they start dredging again the PCB levels will rise dramatically and stay that way as long as they continue removing all that silt on the river bottom. That doesn't even take into account the huge amounts of energy expended or pollution generated to clean up the river. They would have been better off to leave it where it was. It wasn't going to go anywhere. Instead, they've made things worse all in the name of “Saving The Environment.” It's yet another example of the Law of Unintended Consequences coming into play. Government agencies are pretty good at invoking it.

Maybe it's time to rein in the EPA, to remind them that they work for us and not the other way around. Better yet, to ensure they get the message it might be worthwhile to slash their funding to zero for year. Then re-fund it the following year after an exhaustive review of the EPA's overreach and implementation of proper controls upon the agency.