Active: State lawsuit filed to level the playing field for Montana entrepreneurs

When Parker Noland graduated from high school in Kalispell, Montana, he and his close friends joined the Army. Parker was medically discharged a few months after basic training and returned home to Kalispell, where he set out to become a debris-hauling entrepreneur. With an eye toward construction sites and a business plan in hand, he secured a loan to buy a few small dumpsters and a specialized truck to transport them.

He posted ads on a Friday, looking forward to getting his new business off the ground. By Monday, however, he was looking for help. The Montana Public Service Commission had issued a cease-and-desist order, saying Parker needed a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CON) before he could open for business.

Under Montana’s motor carrier laws, would-be debris haulers must apply for CONs with the commission. Applications are then subject to review by existing garbage carriers who can protest the applications and force hearings to determine if there’s a “need” for an additional business—and competition can be considered. Furthermore, protesting companies don’t have to have a reason for their protest when blocking would-be competitors.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that Republic Services and Waste Connections, two of the nation’s largest waste disposal firms that operate in Montana, protested Parker’s CON application. Parker withdrew his application after a lengthy, costly legal battle, recognizing the futility of fighting two huge corporations with seemingly bottomless resources.

In practice, the dumpster CON requirement functions as a competitor’s veto, with two large, national primary players using the scheme to prevent competition by any upstart entrepreneurs. Only one protested application has been granted in the past three years, and those protesting have since asked for reconsideration.

This expensive, time-consuming, and nearly impossible market barrier doesn’t hurt just Parker, but Montanans in remote areas where the big companies don’t serve. Waste Connections and Republic don’t currently provide adequate services in Flathead County, where Parker lives. Yet, they exercise their competitor’s veto to protect their duopoly and prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from expanding operations or entering the market.

Parker wants to be able to operate his business without having to surmount the competitor’s veto. He has witnessed first-hand the injustice of allowing powerful companies to wield the power of the state as a weapon against potential competitors. He simply wants the opportunity to compete fairly.

Represented by PLF free of charge, Parker is challenging Montana’s CON law for junk haulers to eliminate the competitor’s veto and vindicate his constitutional right to earn an honest living.

What’s At Stake?

  • The government should not prevent people from opening a business to protect large existing companies from competition. The government shouldn’t be in the business of choosing winners and losers.
  • Economic liberty facilitates the creation of new businesses, allowing for more entrepreneurship and greater consumer choice. Economic freedom benefits entrepreneurs, who get to pursue their ambitions, as well as consumers, who have greater choice.

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