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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one
 

Can all those rules be wrong?

By Sara Foss
Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I hate dealing with red tape.
To me, there’s nothing more frustrating than navigating arcane rules and regulations, scrutinizing fine print for important details or being told to jump through a hoop that seems completely unnecessary. Life would be easier, I sometimes think, if it came with fewer requirements.
I suspect this is a fairly common attitude and that it explains why the state Senate Majority Coalition’s plan to eliminate what it describes as “thousands of costly and unnecessary government regulations that strangle business and job growth and drive up municipal and school property taxes” has such surface appeal. Nobody likes being told what to do.
But it’s worth asking why these rules and regulations were enacted in the first place; what problems they were intended to solve, and who benefits from them.
Now, I can believe that some of the 2,000-plus rules and regulations targeted by the Senate Majority Coalition are overly expensive and unnecessary.
But I can’t believe that all of them are.
And when I hear state Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, say that “It’s time to stop talking and start cutting,” I worry that rules designed to protect public health, the environment and vulnerable consumers will be heedlessly rolled back. When I read that Marchione plans to conduct “industry-specific public hearings across the state to listen to businesses and local officials to learn which rules, regulations and mandates are the most useless, most costly and should be eliminated,” I wonder whether input from people who find rules and regulations beneficial will also be welcomed.
A coalition of environmental, labor and good-government groups has decried the Senate Majority Plan, which also has the support of members of the Independent Democratic Caucus. They say rules and regulations lead to cleaner air and water, safer working conditions and improvements to health. To these groups, the recent toxic spill in West Virginia, which left 300,000 people without drinking water, is a cautionary tale of what can happen when rules and regulations are too lax.
“New York is not West Virginia, and it is unfortunate leaders of our state Senate would let the complaints of special interests trump the public interest,” said Katherine Nadeau, policy director of Environmental Advocates of New York.
Of course, we don’t have to look far for local examples of the damage that can be caused when businesses are left to their own devices.
There’s the Hudson River, where General Electric dumped PCBs, a suspected carcinogen, for decades. There’s Gloversville,
where glove mill workers were routinely exposed to dangerous chemicals and former tanneries now require expensive remediation. Visitors to the EPA website can peruse a long list of Superfund sites all over the state.
The Senate Majority Coalition’s report is long and diverse, and calls for re-examining and repealing rules and regulations in a number of areas, including agriculture, manufacturing, small business and financial services.
Reading through the document, specific items struck me as potentially reasonable, such as the recommendation that farmers be exempt from recording rainfall and wind direction daily. If this information is readily available from other sources, then I don’t see why farmers have to waste their time collecting it.
But I remain wary of many of the other items, such as a call to reform the state’s Environmental Quality Review program, which requires state and local government agencies to assess and mitigate the environmental impacts of the projects they propose. No doubt the SEQR process can stand to be improved, but I worry that the real goal of those advocating reform is weakening the state’s environmental regulations.
And there’s no shame in having tough environmental regulations, because they make the state more livable for everybody.
Regulatory reform clearly has bipartisan support.
In his State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a push for regulatory reform, and more details are expected to be revealed today, when he releases his budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Maybe something good will come out of this process — a much-needed cutting of red tape, a better business climate. We will have to wait and see.
My concern is that, in their zeal to promote New York as a business-friendly place, our elected officials will make decisions that prove costly down the road.
New York isn’t West Virginia.
And that’s a good thing.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.

 

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