One of the subjects I’ve devoted some time to here over the past few years has been the subject of regulations. As I pointed out earlier this year, there are reasons we have regulations. Most often, those reasons are remembered when … they aren’t followed, enforced, or not there to begin with. According to conservatives, regulations are “unnecessary” and the “free market” will behave properly or correct itself if left alone, all evidence from the past and present to the contrary.
One problems I have with conservatives is that they’ve turned the debate into defending the need for them in the first place. I’d rather have a much different conversation.
The reason the conservative’s line about regulations resonates is that there’s a grain of truth buried in there. I know that, since I live in one of the most heavily regulated areas of the country, the Adirondack Park. If you want to talk about regulatory burdens and layers of bureaucracy, this region is a poster child. I’m currently dealing with that myself in my job.
What’s happening is that we’d like to make some changes in my field station, to make it “greener,” as well as fix some problem spots and open up a few new spots to replace them. Since we’re “off the grid,” right now that means we’re running on a generator. What we’d like to do is to switch to a solar panel/generator mix, with a battery inverter set-up. That would reduce our fossil fuel use drastically, make things a lot quieter in general (generators are noisy), and overall make life a lot more convenient for us. The problem spots we’d like to move are … well … not suitable, to put it mildly. The replacement area we’d like to use instead is not only better suited, it’d be about two days work to set them up. Obviously, this is a piece of cake, right? Wrong.
Most areas, particularly the state-owned areas (the Forest Preserve) are covered by “Unit Management Plans.” They might be considered the “zoning law” for the Park. They’re very detailed, several hundred pages apiece, and cover everything that is or will be done in that unit. It takes the better part of a decade to develop one, and it’s a multi-agency regulatory process. Once it’s final, the rule is “if it’s not in the UMP, you can’t do it.” Hence, our problem. We are covered by a UMP, and … none of our proposed changes are in it. It was finalized 12 years ago, so any changes to allow what we’d like to do have to be run through a new process. In other words, to “go greener” here, we’re looking at a 5-10 year process starting today. That doesn’t include the effort of getting the money to do it, mind you. Now, in an ideal world, this should be a “slam dunk.” It cuts our use of fossil fuels, it makes the field station better environmentally, and it’s “obvious.” But, because of a lot of regulations to protect the environment and govern the land use inside the park boundaries, it’s a bureaucratic and planning nightmare.
Few would disagree that regulations aren’t a good idea in this area. No one wants to clear cut the forests, strip mine, or open up huge polluting factories here. Most people in this area (even conservatives) agree that it’s a good thing to have some form of planning and restrictions on land use. Which is one of the reasons I’m not happy with conservatives. The conversations I’d prefer to be having are “How can we do better?” Is a given regulation or process counterproductive? Unnecessary? Too restrictive? Can we get the same result faster or differently?
Unfortunately, today’s Republicans will fit it into a “regulations are bad” mantra, regardless of reality. Believe me, right now I sympathize with some of that. But just because I’m frustrated with the current regulatory scheme doesn’t mean I don’t understand why they’re there, or even think that they’re unnecessary. I just think we could do better, but because of conservatives, that’s not a conversation we can have.