Libertarian Commentary #16-16C, by Nathan Barton
This week, a rather bizarre incident reminded me again of just how much liberty and freedom we have lost.
An unnamed client in an unnamed “small” (about 250,000 population) city in the Great Plains has a quarry with ready-mixed concrete plant and hot-mixed asphalt facility. Originally on the edge of the city, the city has now grown completely around the facility, which has provided thousands of jobs over the years (and still does) and which has provided millions of tons of aggregates, sand, pavement, and concrete. Indeed it is safe to say that a good third of the city came from this company’s plants!
Anyway, this week, on a bright morning, the company’s environmental engineer got a call from the state environmental agency. It seems that someone had complained about dust blowing off the grounds of the ready-mix plant. This comes as no surprise, since winds for several days had been averaging 30 mph with gusts to 50 or 60 mph. The company takes their dust control (and other environmental efforts) seriously, but mother nature sometimes rules. It is one of those facts of life; sometimes the dust comes off a farmer’s freshly-plowed fields, sometimes off the neighbor’s garden patch, or a gravel road, or a construction site, or a plant and mine site.
The complaint, the state staffer said, had two parts: the person filing the complaint was sure the company was violating its air emissions permit, and its conditional use permit. The caller was sure that the dust was coming off the pavement and not from the plant, and it was “horrible.” Then came the surprise, at least to the company’s engineer – the person had called the complaint into the US Environmental Protection Agency. You know: the Feds, DC!
Well, the state environmental lady told them that the EPA called us, and so we are calling you, and the city, because even the state does not have anything to do with land use and conditional-use permits, and in this particular state, the state government doesn’t regulate what is called “fugitive dust” like the dust blown off a parking lot or street. (Some states, of course, DO: even regulate the dust off your house roof or driveway.) EPA doesn’t regulate fugitive dust, or try to dictate conditional-use permits to local counties and cities, either (at least not now). (But many of them, and many environists and progressives WANT them to.)
Imagine! The company’s environmental engineer knew what to do, of course – make sure that the companies people WERE doing the right thing as far as sweeping and wetting areas and curtailing operations when there were high winds, and went back and double-checked the records. And confirmed what he already knew: the plant and facility had no “conditional-use permit” because that plant and quarry have been operating at that location since 1930: 85 years, and the city didn’t even issue “permits” – rather, it said, “here are the standards you need to meet,” and expected that business would meet them.
So he called the city planning and health departments to make sure that they knew that the company knew what was going on. Those departments said that the company was in full compliance with all standards and requirements, and no action was going to be taken by the city against the company, even if the state and the EPA were involved. And that the city didn’t hold the wind against the company.
The engineer also checked with the company’s front desk and the managers of the various plants, to make sure everyone understood what was happening, were doing what they needed to – and to see if anyone had gotten a complaint from someone about this dust.
Why do I relate this story? We are reminded of several facts of modern life. First, people more than ever expect government to do EVERYTHING. It used to be a stinging joke or rebuke to tell someone “don’t make a federal case out of it.” Now, it seems EVERYTHING is supposed to be a federal case. The next time my neighbor lets his dog run across my yard and take a poop, I guess my FIRST action should be to call the White House complaint line. (Seriously: 1-855-411-2372 Toll free) as provided at the White House website OR 202-456-1111 as listed on another page.) Assume that the federal agencies micromanage EVERY aspect of daily life for people and business. Go to the top.
Second, under NO circumstances should you EVER go directly to some one to tell them you have a problem with their business or operations. Although the name and address of the complainer (accuser) was not revealed by EPA, enough information was given to know that the person lived within two or three blocks of the headquarters of the company, which is well marked, and within a couple of blocks of the ready-mixed plant manager’s office (also well marked).
Third, we all deserve and can demand perfection; zero tolerance, zero defects, zero risk. If we can’t keep ALL the dust down ALL the time, then shut us down, do without the products we produce and deliver, and live in perfect harmony with nature, including the weather. After all, just like we KNOW that milk comes in a jug in the grocery store, and not from cows in a barn who ate grass (and pooped) out in a pasture, we know that concrete comes out of the back of a zero-emissions, low-impact concrete mixer truck, NOT from a bunch of big holes in the ground and several giant plants that burn fuel and emit dust. (And no, 99.999% control of dust is NOT enough. That means that for 100,000 tons of dust which MIGHT be put into the air, just 1 ton actually gets out. But that 1 ton is TOO MUCH.
Dealing with the complaint – and with all the agencies – didn’t take too much time: the company probably spent 3 or 4 man-hours, at a cost of $50 an hour (with benefits and overhead): $200. And the various bureaucrats in all the agencies probably spent 4 or 5 hours at $100 an hour (government overhead is tough), so $500 of TAXPAYER money. Of which the company surely did pay its share. As did the complainer. It probably only amounts to a dime or less of the cost of a cubic yard of ready-mixed concrete to the complainer when he decides to pave his patio or driveway. Until you multiply it by ten million companies and a million bureaucrats in ten thousand locations. Then you find (as reported so often by Reason and Heartland and Cato and TPOL) it costs trillions. And makes a mockery of liberty and freedom.
Enough is enough.
Mama’s Note: And don’t forget all of the people thrown out of work when these companies finally have too much overhead, too much mindless regulation that can’t be followed even if they want to… too much. Far too much.