That pesky regulation

Alas, if only Democrats would stop with insisting on that pesky regulation and just allow the market to be unfettered so we could all live in utopia of zero unemployment and happiness everywhere.  I mean, who needs to regulate things like massive coal ash disposal piles near waterways.  I’m sure if we don’t the market will somehow take care of it.  Or not.

Nice to see NC’s environmental disaster getting some national attention.  Nice editorial from the NYT:

North Carolina citizens have good reason to wonder just whom their environmental regulators are trying to protect. The state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources has engaged in a series of maneuvers that seem designed to protect the state’s largest utility, Duke Energy, from paying big fines for water pollution from coal ash ponds and meeting reasonable requirements that it move toxic coal ash to lined landfills away from rivers and lakes used for drinking water and recreation.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country — having heard of the damaging North Carolina coal ash spill this month — must be wondering why the federal government has yet to move against a serious pollution problem it has known about for years.

One answer is the political power of the utilities. In North Carolina, a coalition of environmental groups, led by the Southern Environmental Law Center, tried three times over the past year to sue Duke Energy in federal court for violating the Clean Water Act, only to be pre-empted by the state regulatory agency, which asserted its authority to protect the public through enforcement actions in state courts. Once in control of the litigation, the state regulators quickly proposed a sweetheart settlement of suits against two Duke Energy plants. It would have imposed total fines and costs of about $99,000, a pittance for a company with operating revenues of $19.6 billion in 2012, plus a cleanup plan riddled with loopholes…

On Feb. 9, The Associated Press revealed that lenient state regulators had maneuvered to block the environmental groups. The environment agency, embarrassed by the spill and the revelations, immediately asked the state judge to hold its proposed settlement in abeyance while it conducted a comprehensive review of all coal ash facilities in the state. We can only hope that this is a genuine attempt to solve the problem and not a stalling tactic. Meanwhile, Duke Energy has apologized for the big leak and pledged to make things right, but it has not committed to moving the waste to safer locations…

The recent events in North Carolina provide ample evidence that the E.P.A., which has belatedly agreed to issue a final rule by Dec. 19, should declare coal ash a form of hazardous waste and regulate it stringently.

Hmmm, you think just maybe that the state’s director of DENR has said he sees polluting businesses rather than the citizens of North Carolina as his “customers” is part of the problem?

You know, if we do get some new “job-killing” regulations, some people might actually lose their jobs polluting the water of their fellow citizens.  Personally, I can live with that trade-off.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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