Regulations Not One Size Fits All

We know by experience that without regulation, unscrupulous operators hurt people and undermine the common good. By cutting corners, they gain an unfair advantage over good farms and businesses that do things right. But regulations designed for big business and cities often don’t fit small enterprises and small communities.

I am no expert on regulation. But I hear a similar refrain across rural America. Policy makers should design alternative approaches for regulating small businesses and places to fit their circumstances, but still protect the public.

Small-town rescue squads are concerned about the difficulty of finding volunteers who can undergo the extensive training to meet EMS qualifications. If they can’t maintain local ambulance service, lives will be sacrificed. For heart-attack victims, the extra minutes for an ambulance from a larger town can be a matter of life and death.

In rural reaches of another state, small dairy farmers want to sell milk directly to consumers. But they can’t justify the several hundred thousand dollars investment in new facilities to legally sell milk. So instead, their customers share ownership in their cows to fall under the personal use exemption. These dairies live in fear of a state crackdown. Is an expensive building really the key to milk safety?

Another small dairy farmer set out to add value to his milk by producing cheese. Regulators said he must build on to his milking parlor. His cream separator, they said, couldn’t be in a room where milking equipment is stored. Is that really the key to producing safe cheese?

Small slaughter plants must pay a federal meat inspector to be present every time one animal is killed. That applies if the meat is sold. Is there not a more cost effective way of ensuring sound practices in small plants? Would frequent surprise inspections do the job at much lower cost?

Small banks have added staff to comply with new banking regulations. Regulation is needed to address the irresponsible practices of big banks and mortgage originators that brought our economy to its knees. The economic meltdown was in part prompted by repeal of New Deal bank regulations that kept banks out of risky investments.

The lesson of 2007 was abundantly clear. Bank regulation was needed. But it appears Congress in part hit the wrong target – small banks that did not cause the problem.

In each of these areas regulation is needed. We have to protect human health, the environment, and the common good. We know by experience that without regulation, unscrupulous operators hurt people and undermine the common good. By cutting corners, they gain an unfair advantage over good farms and businesses that do things right.

But regulation biased against the small undermines rural enterprise and the rural way of life. We need enlightened regulation.