Earth Day 2011: When Government Environmental Policies Kill People and Destroy the Environment

Throughout the years, the NCPA has chronicled various ways government policies intended to protect the environment have precisely the opposite effect, causing worse environmental  problems than the issues they were intended to prevent or correct.

We’ve documented how Federal land management has created a tinderbox on  National Forests (wiping out forests and killing people)  in the West and harmed wildlife on public lands nationwide.   We’ve pointed out how federal fisheries policies are contributing to the near collapse of the Ocean fisheries.  In addition, I have written concerning how national energy policies on offshore drilling, wind power and ethanol are, causing a variety of environmental and human harms.

Today, however, I want to focus on policies a little closer to home, your home, my home, everyone’s home.  Federal policies aimed and energy and resource efficiency are unfortunately wasting resources and in some instances literally killing people – yet the feds, rather than staying out of our bathrooms and our kitchens want to increase their control over our everyday purchases.

The Department of Energy, in its infinite wisdom, has decided it knows how much energy your refrigerator’s freezer should use in creating ice cubes.  It wants to force a decrease in the amount of energy refrigerators use in making ice.  What’s the harm you say?  First, why should the government tell you how much energy you can use to chill your drinks, if you are willing to pay the power bill, it’s none of their business.  Second, in reality, every time the government raises efficiency standards all manner of unintended negative consequences result – including, often, increased energy use.  When the government forces conservation, it reduces it makes energy cheaper and when energy is cheaper, people use more of it. Increasing auto fuel economy, years of experience show, hasn’t decreased gasoline use since making driver cheaper has encouraged people to drive more.  In addition, corporate average fuel economy standards have resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths on the nation’s highway – fuel efficient cars are, on average, less safe at any speed than larger vehicles.

Increase television and computer energy efficiency and people buy bigger TV’s and computer screens and leave them on or in stand-by mode rather than shutting them off.  In addition, these refrigerators will be much more expensive meaning people will keep their older, less efficient units longer – repairing them rather than replacing them.  The divide between rich and poor even enters into the realm of appliance purchases.

Remember when government decided to regulate our toilet flushes.  At one time, we had water guzzling but effective, long-lasting (no planned obsolescence for good old American made toilets of by-gone years – they last forever) toilets.  The Federal government knew better, it mandated toilets that used less water per flush. These toilets proved often to be messy disasters.  They stopped up and backed up far too often.  Often it took (still takes) multiple flushes to do the job that only took one flush on the old toilets.  Multiple flushes and increased complexity often increased the rate at which the new toilets broke and had to be replaced.  Multiple flushes also meant far less water was saved than expected. People hated the new toilets so much that a thriving black market arose in good-old five-gallon toilets scavenged from trailers and mobile homes scheduled for destruction.   Only government has the hubris to believe they know best how the average American should use the john.

This brings us to the latest government created environmental and human health hazard in pursuit of forced energy consumption.  To many average citizen’s dismay, in 2007 Congress banned the time tested, effective, incandescent light bulb.  Over time, except for certain specialized uses, they were to be phased out and everyone would have to use the, in theory, less energy intensive, longer lasting but much more expensive (in fact) Compact fluorescent lights (CFL’s).  Though a new generation of legislators is attempting to repeal these regulations, it is becoming apparent that much damage has already been done.  In the midst of a recession, employees at incandescent bulb factories were forced – by government decree, mind you —  to  join the ranks of the unemployed as their factories closed and the new CFL factories ramped up production in China.

In addition, recent studies have found what many predicted at the time, the new CFL’s, which rarely last as long as promised, are not being disposed of property and thus mercury, a well-known potential neurotoxin is regularly being released into the environment.  Most curbside recycling programs won’t handle CFL’s.  Users are supposed to take them to “local” (if they exist) hazardous waste facilities for recycling.  Most don’t; instead putting them in with the regular garbage where the bulbs end up in landfills broken releasing their mercury into the soil and water.

Most troubling, if you care at all about human life and safety, these bulbs are proving to be fire hazards.   A recent report by author Edmund Contoski chronicles a number of cases where exploding CFL’s have caused fires, some even resulting in fatalities.

Whatever else one may think of environmental regulation, or regulations in general a prime guiding principle should be a version of the Hippocratic oath “Firstly, do no harm.” The forced CFL conversion is bad for the economy, bad for consumer choice, bad for the environment and now it turns out bad for human health and safety.”  Let’s hope Congress comes to its senses and repeals all of these regulations that are intended to force people to make more energy efficient purchases that just end up killing people.  Peoples’ lives should not be sacrificed on the altar of energy efficiency.

In the end, it’s not just our bedrooms the government should butt out of, it should stay out of our garages and the other rooms in our houses, as well.

Comments (3)

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  1. Todd Myers says:

    Exactly. Worse, when we are forced to spend more on technologies that don’t work, we don’t have the money to spend where it might make a difference. In Washington state, legislators considered making the energy standards for appliances more restrictive. For those who cook every night, this might make sense. But for those who cook occasionally, this is a waste of money for very little environmental benefit — money that could be used better elsewhere.

    Only we know what works best in our lives and how to make the best decisions for our lives and resource use.

  2. Mr. Burnett, the tiny toilet and expensive, poinonous light bulb are very good examples of how our government intrudes into our private lives.
    Long before the laws were passed, any informed person knew they were a mistake, bad for the general population, and that the only beneficiaries of the laws would be the manufacturers of the toilets and CFL bulbs and the federal government agencies that enforce such rules. This was obvious, but our congress went ahead with the bills and the then-president signed them into law, causing the problems cited by Mr. Burnett and further bloating the federal bureaucracies to enforce and manage the laws.
    ? Was this CFL debacle about the same time that the Chinese government made large financial donations to the re-election campaign of a sitting president?

  3. John Minich says:

    In another article by N.C.P.A., CFLs, all fluorescent bulbs and tubes also emit UV radiation, a health hazard, which incandescent bulbs do not (I don’t know about xenon bulbs that emit a bluish light). I read about a study in England that LEDs emit enough UV to attract insects, even if color of the LEDs were other than the normal blue-white. Besides the eyes, is there a risk to those people who are so photosensitive, they risk severe injury if they go outside in daylight?

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