Government regulations leave little room for common sense

October 22, 2012 01:05 pm

We often hear that regulations are stifling business and industry. You may be asking yourself, “If this is really true, how does this affect me?” Let me cite just a few examples.

Our local timber industry is in danger of becoming a memory of the past because of excessive regulation, which results in the lack of careful attention to forest health.

The recent article in The Observer  entitled, “Analyst: Lack of Logs Threatens Jobs,” caught my eye. In this article it was very clear that without timber harvested from our federal lands, our county is in danger of not only losing hundreds of jobs, but also of losing the infrastructure necessary to maintain a viable timber industry.

Over the past 20 years, Northeast Oregon has lost 17 mills and more than 1,200 jobs due to lack of available timber. Our local forests are growing at a rate of 400 to 800 million board-feet per year, or equivalent to 170,000 log truck loads of logs. The growth of timber exceeds our ability to maintain healthy forests through thinning, harvesting timber in order to maximize timber health. Because excessive regulations prohibit the much-needed controlled harvesting to ensure healthy forests, we will continue to see our forests succumb to catastrophic fires, resulting in air polluted with smoke and ash as well as increased release of carbon dioxide. The lack of controlled harvest will also increase the danger of insect infestation.

How does the reality of mill closures affect you? The unemployment rate for August 2012 in Union County was 9.2 percent, and it will only increase if our mills close. Residents will be forced to leave our county to seek employment elsewhere. There will be a glut of houses on the market with some going into foreclosure. Businesses will fail for lack of business, and schools will have fewer students. (They have lost more than 1,000 students since 1992.) More teachers and programs will be cut. Fewer taxes will be paid, thus the county infrastructure will be diminished. The list goes on. I hope you get the picture. Excessive regulations are detrimental on so many levels and affect so many people.

Another regional example of excessive environmental controls is the potential closure of the Ash Grove cement plant in Durkee. If the plant is forced to close, it will have a huge negative economic impact on Baker County. The Ash Grove plant has invested around $20 million to become compliant with EPA regulations to decrease the mercury emissions to a level equal to the standards set for air pollutants from Portland cement manufacturers.

Economic devastation

Don’t get me wrong. We are all interested in clean air and water. However, we need to ask ourselves if there is room for a common-sense approach to regulations versus the weight of economic devastation to a county that already has 10.2 percent unemployment. With the potential loss of 109 employees, the loss of payroll of about $9 million and the loss of annual local taxes of more than $790,000, do you think our sister county will notice the negative impact if Ash Grove is forced to close?

Another regional example to consider is in Morrow County. In Morrow County, a coal-fired power plant is scheduled for closure in 2020, even after investing millions of dollars in an effort to become compliant with DEQ regulations. The unemployment rate of Morrow County in August 2012 was 9.0 percent. Not only will 110 employees lose their jobs, but 15 percent of the power provided by PGE will be lost, thus causing consumers’ rates to increase. Morrow County will also see a reduction in their tax base, thus a reduction in county infrastructure and jobs.

If you talk to any of our local merchants, they will give you the same sad commentary. Regulations are creating hardships that are making it difficult to keep their doors open. Do we need more empty buildings?

Another case in point: The Union County Senior Center has until July 1, 2013, to become compliant with a 51-page missive from the federal government or federal funding will go away. Those regulations? No more gravy or desserts can be served with senior meals. Now that is pretty doggone important for a dictum of 51 pages. This won’t cost jobs, however. It is just another example of excessive regulation in another facet of our lives.

We must again ask ourselves: Is there any room for a common-sense approach to these regulations that will cost our counties hundreds of jobs and industry? Is there a middle ground?

Our way of life in rural America, as we know it, is in jeopardy. Do we want to be a part of the destruction of the fabric of our rural communities because regulations are now more important than the economy they are destroying and the lives that will be changed forever?

As you cast your ballot for president, consider which candidate will be our advocate for jobs, less regulation and accountability. As for me, my choice is, without hesitation, Gov. Mitt Romney.

R. Nellie Hibbert lives in La Grande
and is a former county clerk
and former county commissioner.