Regulations, What Are They Good For? Some Say Absolutely Nothing

I’m not in that group, but it is those who are that seem to be the most willing to ignore anything good that does derive from what seems like almost any quantity of regulation of almost anything.

Where’s this observation of mine coming from? It really became highlighted for me in a thread about clean air regulations that got consumed by the philosophical differences related to how we prioritize what is important to us. The example comes from this post at The Moderate Voice where I’ve been co-blogging for years as an example.  Just read through the comments.  (I know several of the regulars and we have acceptable online rapports that have developed over years, so you can stick to considering the content of the arguments made, as opposed to anything that might seem kind of personal.)

I don’t think that the back and forth there is atypical at all in terms of how those who are prone to see matters in a binary way apply that to the topic of government regulation.  In fact, I think it reflects that type of vision extremely well.

My read of such dialogues has been that the two sides in the regulations binary debate line up like this, and not just when the environment and the EPA are involved but certainly that’s been a popular target: there are folks who see regulations as suffocating business (and therefore the creation of wealth and therefore the means for people to be able to, in a more general and pervasive way, protect health) and then there are those who see business practices that are governed by profit-making as suffocating humans.

Heavy claims, I know, but honestly, I don’t know how we can phrase it any other way.  There are other facets to the debate, but in their foundation, I believe that these two positions are rooted in those positions.

Now, the idea behind federal laws – regulation and other – often have to do with taking on issues that are best handled uniformly in order to benefit a wide swath of individuals equally, and have the swath of individuals or entities at whom the law is aimed all be expected to do more or less the same thing.  This eliminates variations in knowing the law and, theoretically, in applying the law.

While of course that’s just in theory and of course there are situations where state by state there is a need for differentiation, and of course we have state EPAs, the general idea is to be setting expectations known to all and applied to all and expected of all, within the confines of whatever Congress has outlined.  The United States Supreme Court decision in American Electric Power Co., Inc. v. Connecticut, generally speaking, reaffirms this kind of authority – in that case, the EPA’s authority to consider some specific issues assigned to it, by Congress, that are related to carbon emissions (and the overall topic of global warming).

But even with the SCOTUS decision implying the accepted role of an agency like the EPA, the philosophical debate over the use of regulation should not be expected to disappear.  Why not?

Because how you feel about regulation really boils down to who you trust.  I was going to write, who you trust to do the right thing, but the thing is? When you are more about not suffocating business than you are about not suffocating humans, for whatever reason that might be and however you may rationalize that being so can still lead to healthy people, you are not thinking about what the “right thing” is in terms of people’s lives.  You are thinking in economic terms, pure and simple.

And for those of us who want and expect and demand reasonable regulation of business in order to protect people and our planet? Well -I won’t speak for others though I believe I could, and I will speak for myself: I do not trust businesses to regulate themselves to the degree they need to regulate themselves so that we are protected at the level we should be protected, and I find the government regulation of business to be a necessary component to ensure that businesses will not disregard people’s health, among other things, as they seek to always maximize profit.

Would it be awesome if every single business that could function in ways that endanger us cared about and acted to minimize those dangers to the degree that we wish they would, even if it affects their bottom line, without government regulations? You better believe it.  But the failure for that to happen, and the bickering over when there is danger and actual damage to us, is precisely why government regulation must be deployed on behalf of all of us.

Our health and our lives – and our children lives – are not zero-sum propositions.  And we should not be expected to give up years on our lives or our kids lives in exchange for a business to make more profits simply because they do not find that doing what “is right” would also be able to be doing what is financially beneficial to them.

And the weekly reminder: Please consider joining the Moms Clean Air Force to help fight for clean air for our kids. Every voice counts and is needed.  If you haven’t already done so, you have through July 5th to email the EPAand show your support for the new Mercury and Air Toxics rule.  Thank you.

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