Cliff Slater’s Second Opinion

Honolulu Advertiser, October 4, 1996


Environmental rules costly


Along with 80% of Americans I consider myself pro-environment. In fact, I raise funds for a local environmental group. However, environmental regulation is beginning to wear a little thin with me.

Recently I had to close down a division of my company that manufactured costume jewelry. The chemical effluent from this operation was in trace amounts but nevertheless it could not meet the new environmental standards and we had to eliminate four jobs.

Other new regulations now prohibit us from touching up worn paint on machinery and vehicles. We once used ordinary Sears spray paint. Now, to do that we must have a spray booth. Since, we cannot justify the expense of a spray booth for such small jobs so we handle the job crudely—and more expensively—with paint brushes.

Most people do not realize that business people must pass along the costs of all these manini regu

lations to consumers which result in higher prices. In addition, our workers lose their jobs to foreign countries who do not have such excessive regulation.

Every regulation we impose on ourselves involves a financial cost. Every added cost means a trade-off against some benefit we must forego.

We all understand that family budget decisions involve weighing the benefits against the costs of the various alternatives. Families (and businesses) understand that there is always a trade-off. Do we get the new car, or redo the kitchen, get the house tented, go to Las Vegas this year or put the money away for retirement?

Yet government imposes regulatory costs without any consideration of what benefits we will have to forego—the trade-offs.

For example, we can impose an expensive waste treatment facility on ourselves so that perfectly clean water effluent goes into the ocean. However, it may mean foregoing a fully-staffed police force or repairing Honolulu's broken-down sewers. Ironically, our surrounding ocean is virtually devoid of nutrients so it is counter productive to totally sanitize our sewage before it goes into the ocean.

Most Americans do not begrudge the expense of environmental regulation if government uses it carefully, thoughtfully and sensibly. The cost of U.S. environmental regulation is presently about $6,000 per family. Assuming that it costs us the same per family as the rest of the U.S., that amounts to $1.6 billion annually as Hawaii taxpayers' share. Much of that is necessary, but a great deal of it is purely wasteful.

Washington bureaucrats can hardly be expected to write sensible regulations that will fit both Ohio and Hawaii. There are most probably very few regulations at all that would be appropriate for both states.

If we had our environmental regulations ordered and administered in Hawaii instead of Washington, DC, we would spend our money more efficiently and effectively. Certainly Hawaii environmentalists could spend the money more wisely. The real problems that are degrading Hawaii's natural environment are being overlooked right now.

For example, wild pigs run amok in our few remaining native rainforests destroying native plants. In their place, the pigs drop the seeds of such non-native plants as the invasive strawberry guava.

We virtually ignore the threat to our local ecosystems from the non-native clidemia and miconia.

Imported rats and the mongoose threaten many of our indigenous bird populations with little attempt at control. And our schools budget almost nothing for environmental education.

We cannot impose additional taxes on Hawaii's people to pay for all these; they are already paying too much. We have to get our money back from Washington so that we can make more sensible choices here in Hawaii.