L. Neil Smith's

Number 12, August 14, 1996

Smaller Government, More Regulation?

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Bill Clinton, of course, expects to campaign for re-election (barring any indictments in the immediate family) on the basis of what a fiscal conservative he's been, cutting taxes and reducing the size of the federal workforce and all.
         Under those circumstances, one might expect that branch of the more-power-to-the-bureaucrats movement which now identifies itself as "environmentalist" to be shrieking bloody murder as the EPA and her companion nanny agencies submit weekly requests to Congress to waive or repeal this regulation or that, due to a growing shortage of paper-pushers.
         In fact, this "trimming of the federal workforce" is so much smoke and mirrors. How else could the Environmental Protection Agency imagine it will have the extra personnel to enforce the brand new expansion of "right-to-know" legislation concerning "toxic discharges" that it announced last month -- a law which will now be stretched to cover coal and mine operators, as well?
         Yes, some mines -- particularly gold mines -- do use some toxic chemicals. But mining is already regulated under the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. On top of that, the individual states also impose their own layer of health and safety regulations on such enterprises.
         As Congresswoman Barbara Vucanovich of Nevada says: "I don't think this reporting requirement makes a whole lot of sense. This information is already available from the state of Nevada, which has in place stringent reporting requirements for mining companies."
         So, what are the regulators really up to?
         A vital hint is provided by Jim Lyon, whose "Mineral Policy Center" was a major lobbyist for this latest multiplication of the federal paperwork burden: "The mining industry produces more waste than municipalities and other industries combined," Mr. Lyon told reporters in Washington in early August. "To have an industry producing that much waste exempt from this law is inexcusable."
         Note the underlying assumption -- that everything should be regulated, and any business owner still free in any way had better be ready to explain why.
         The type of law in question -- like so many others -- originally had a very limited purpose: helping consumers who might want to know the stuffing in an imported chair could release toxic gases in a fire. The purchaser, the logic went, had a "right to know," which the statists translated into a "right for us to interpose ourselves in the transaction, whether there was any evidence the seller was keeping dangerous secrets or not."
         So, are those who buy processed gold or coal or borax unaware of dangerous toxins injected into these commodities by the mining industry? Of course not. Here's another law being stretched far beyond the original intent.
         But better yet is this business about mines producing "more waste" than all other industries combined.
         That's true -- but only if the sand, dirt and gravel shifted from one place to another in mining operations are considered "waste."
         And that's exactly what this new regulation proposes. A public conditioned to consider "mining wastes" to be dangerous toxins will soon be informed that this mine created so many hundred thousand tons of "toxic wastes," only to be topped by the "toxic output" of someone on the other side of the mountain, when the "toxins" under discussions are nothing but gravel.
         Why? Because that dirt "could contain" lead, asbestos, cadmium, or other hazardous substances, the EPA warns.
         I'm reminded of Philip K. Howard's tour of the Glen-Gery brick factory near Reading, Pa. in the opening pages of his 1994 book "The Death of Common Sense" ($18, Random House), in which he recounts coming upon "a large POISON sign dominating one side of a storage shed filled with bags of something hazardous: It turns out to be sand." The sand -- silica -- was judged a toxin by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on the basis that the stuff might cause cancer, if you ground enough of it up into dust and then inhaled it ... something no known brickmaker had done since the days when Moses pleaded with Pharaoh for a little more straw.
         Yes, mining can cause environmental damage. It's one of the proper roles of government to discourage such damage, a goal probably best accomplished by facilitating the assertion of private property rights in downstream waters and fisheries, and providing courts in which damage claims can be promptly and inexpensively heard.
         This new proposed regulation does no such thing. Its main purpose is to pile more straw on the camel's back -- in the form of yet more onerous and expensive paperwork requirements -- to make mining less profitable and eventually discourage it altogether, under the cynical guise of "protecting the public."
         Protecting us right into the poorhouse.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.

Imagine a government bent on sharing its sensitive, caring, environmentally friendly ways with an entire universe. Then imagine the army it needs. CLD -- Collective Landing Detachment. Dark military SF. By Victor Milan. From AvoNova.

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