Wasteful and ill-conceived environmental regulations?


Author: Luke A. Wake

It is a mistake to assume that regulation is the answer to every problem. Often regulations create more problems than not.

Consider for a moment the absurdity of wasteful environmental policies like the infamous cash for clunkers program from last summer. The federal government was literally paying Americans to destroy perfectly functional vehicles in order to encourage them to buy new fuel efficient vehicles. – I'm all about making environmentally friendly consumer choices, but how are we being good stewards of the earth when we destroy perfectly functional goods? 

In the same way, auto-emission regulations are often wasteful. Case in point: California's stringent auto-emission standards destroyed my perfectly functional 1997 Pontiac a few weeks ago. I would have been content to drive that car for another few years. After all, scrapping a perfectly functional car is wasteful and environmentally irresponsible. But California – in its infinite supreme wisdom – told me that I could not continue to drive that car without passing a "smog test," and that I could not pass the smog test without turning my check engine light off. Now there was nothing wrong with that car, except the fact that the light wouldn't turn off. Older cars are finicky like that; lights pop on for all sorts of benign reasons. The light had nothing to do with my auto-emissions, and its absurd that a car should be forced into early retirement in the name of environmental regulations when it still has utility. After all the energy and resources put into the manufacturing of my new Toyota were probably more costly to the environment than my continued use of the Pontiac.

But lets consider the bigger picture. Suppose EPA were to require that every American drive a vehicle averaging at least 33 miles per gallon on the highway. They would say this would be "good for the environment," but if this forced hundreds of thousands of Americans to junk perfectly functional cars, would this regulation really be helping the environment?

People seem to assume that environmental regulations are helping the environment, but they fail to consider how they may result in waste. Moreover, people fail to consider the impact such regulations have on humans – particularly on the poor and the lower-middle class. Many Americans simply can't afford to buy new vehicles; they are living pay-check to pay-check, just to get by.

Regulations almost always have costly affects on people, and our economy. For example, the Central Valley of California – America's Breadbasket – is in a government induced drought due to overly aggressive environmental regulations. Those regulations are leading to high unemployment in an already precarious economic climate. Suffice it to say that some environmental regulations go too far, and some are simply ill-conceived. Perhaps its time to reconsider the propriety of extremist environmental regulations.