Attorney Jonathan Wood spoke at the second CCA on the need for clear reg­u­la­tions that won’t hurt indi­viduals. LinkedIn

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.