Attorney Jonathan Wood, in a speech for this week’s Center for Constructive Alternatives, described the real effects of environmental regulation on everyday people and how to combat these regulations going forward.
Wood gave the final lecture in this semester’s second CCA, “The Cost of Regulation.” In his speech titled “How Regulation Ruins Lives,” he spoke of the flawed creation and enactment of the regulatory state of the nation. Wood, who worked for the Pacific Legal Foundation, discussed examples of the effects of unclear and occasionally ill-founded environmental regulation.
Wood said as a country, we make a mistake when we debate the “overall effect” of regulations. The reality is that these regulations are applied to real people. Whether regulations succeed or fail is largely determined by whether or not they affect individual people’s lives positively.
“If you design a law that can’t be understood by an ordinary person, you’re just punishing people,” Wood said.
As a liberty-minded environmentalist himself, Wood said, he cares about people and the environment, and both are best served by clear rules set out before a problem has begun. Environmental regulations are typically obscure and indecipherable, created by bureaucrats and enforced by those who are removed from the real people who suffer the consequences of them.
Senior Marcus Koperski said he appreciated the emphasis on more local regulation as opposed to the national, removed bureaucrats creating regulation.
“I really agreed with the speaker’s argument that if we’re dead set on regulating everything, it should be done much more on the local and state level,” Koperski said.
According to Wood, regulations need to focus on guiding human action for real people. If a rule doesn’t do this specifically, it’s not going to achieve its stated purpose; rather, it will just hurt people, as environmental regulations most often do.
Wood said that one major problem with these regulations is their widespread lack of understanding. They have encouraged unacceptable rules by transferring the power of making rules from from elected officials who citizens are able to hold accountable to those who people can’t. This is problematic because regulations aren’t intrinsically bad. Common law, such as the law against murdering, is intrinsically good, he said, and therefore understood by the majority of the population.
“Few have the intuitive sense that it is a crime to — and these are some real examples — sell vegetable spaghetti bigger than 11/100 of an inch in diameter,” Wood said.
Somewhat obscene laws like this reveal the cost to people who had no reason to think they’re committing an illegal act, he said. Because regulatory crimes are so numerous, it’s impossible to know them all.
In order for regulation to produce a positive outcome, Wood laid out four guidelines. First, regulations must be publicly communicated in advance. Second, they must be simple enough that an average person — not a lawyer or policy maker — can efficiently decipher it. Third, rules must be relatively consistent so people don’t get easily confused. Fourth, as he emphasized throughout his speech, regulations must be clear.
Senior Emily Holtyn, who has studied endangered species, said she appreciated his note about hunting regulation and the actual it has.
“This talk actually spoke of the power of free-market reform to actually affect change which not all the talks actually do,” she said.
Wood also said part of the solution will be holding elected representatives accountable, those who are actually chosen to create legislation. They must must bear consequences of a poorly written law, which he said encourages careful and thorough implementation.
This is the problem that one CCA guest brought up regarding the lack of responsibility taken with the clean water crisis in Flint, Mich. As soon as the issue started, Wood said, everyone fled and played a game of “hot potato” with responsibility, which happens when there aren’t clear lines of accountability.
Wood ended his speech with a call to action for all citizens.
“Until enough members of Congress care, we’re not going to get it enacted, which means we have work to do ourselves,” he said.