Most of us who have lived in New York state — let alone the Adirondack Park — knows what it’s like to get tangled up in weird, confusing and costly regulations.
A few months ago, I listened to the owner of a new liquor store talk about the byzantine rules and endless delays that bogged down her efforts to win a license. It cost a lot of money, in fees and in time and labor.
Politicians — Republicans mostly, but also many Democrats — have turned this irritation into a kind of war cry.
Last year, Rep. Bill Owens from Plattsburgh joined the fight to prevent the EPA from treating dairy spills in the same way that the feds treat oil spills.
If we can thin the tall grass of useless regulation, the argument goes,we can boost productivity and attract new investment, making New York state more business friendly.
I don’t quibble with any of that. The burden should always be on regulators to demonstrate that government rules produce tangible benefits, at a reasonable cost.
And sometimes bureaucrats in Albany and Washington really do seem to have drunk whatever flavor of Kool-Aid it is that drowns common sense.
But this is one of those areas in American life where it seems like we swing from one extreme to the other.
Earlier this year, the agriculture industry derailed an effort to introduce new farm safety regulations designed to protect child laborers.
Some of the proposed rules were goofy and nonsensical and poorly written. But the fact is that a lot of kids are seriously injured or killed each year while working in the ag industry.
When the dust settled, there were no rules in place protecting even very young children, or restricting the kind of machinery they can operate, or the number of hours they can work each day.
Does that make sense?
This question of regulation surfaced again the last couple of weeks as I researched the fledgling wood pellet energy industry in the North Country.
I found a lot of business leaders in our region who say their profits are actually being stifled by the lack of enforcable quality standards that would give consumers more confidence.
“There are a lot of pellet stoves sold that are inferior and they create a lot of work for the people using them,” said Pat Curran, head of Curran Renewables in Massena.
“If there could be a standard, we could create something that really takes the end work away from the consumer, and then we could really grow the industry.”
But American companies that make these furnaces and a lot of companies that make the actual wood pellets have resisted any kind of regulation.
“Unfortunately, it’s still a bit of the wild west out there, with pellet fuel,” says Charlie Niebling general manager of a company called New England Wood Pellet based in Jaffrey New Hampshire.
“You can say ‘premium’ on your bag and you can shovel any old crap into the bag and there’s really nothing to stop you,” he acknowledged.
Some companies are even using contaminated wood to make their pellets. Wth no rules in place to stop them from doing so, they can buy cheap raw materials and undercut the price of more ethical competitors.
How does that make sense?
There is, of course, a school of thought that holds that any government intervention in the marketplace is a bad thing. People say consumers and families should make their own informed decisions without hand-holding from a bureaucrat.
But other Americans seem pretty pleased with government rules that protect things like food safety, and set standards for medical care and other services.
What do you think? Too much regulation in our society? Have you experienced a horror story with a government bureaucrat?
Or have there been moments when you wished companies faced closer scrutiny and tighter rules to protect consumers? As always, comments welcome.