Unintended Consequences

Late in September, a reader who must have been browsing Environmental Protection's Web site (because he chose an article that appeared one month earlier) commented on an appeals court decision about where a Pennsylvania county should dump its waste.

Kurt A. Muenchow wrote: I just finished reading, "Appeals Court Sides with County on Where to Dump Waste."

I'm thinking about all the possible unintended consequences of what appears to me to be such a short-sighted approach. Would a hauler have to dump at a non-compliant facility? If so, would the hauler then be legally (at least morally) liable for perpetuating or worsening the non-compliant condition? Are the county's citizens REQUIRED to worsen their own environment in such a scenario?

Does Pennsylvania law actually encourage poor waste-management practices by incentivizing each county to create a small, local dump just so it can capitalize on disposal fees?

Perhaps Pennsylvania intentionally is trying to exclude the "big boys"/protecting their local haulers by removing the BFI/Waste Management's competitive edge gained by economies of scale (consolidation and least-cost disposal)? Does the customer (county taxpayer) ultimately pay the increased price of this protectionism? What if an alternate facility is located closer to the county's main population center -- the hauler has to burn up more fuel to haul a longer distance to that particular county's dump? What if a competing facility employs a proactive sorting/recycling approach to waste minimization that is environmentally superior to the dump-and-bury of the local county?

None of this makes any sense to me.

Further, creation of a county monopoly (in this case for waste disposal) seems a "back-door" way to tax the citizen, as a monopolistic county could then charge any fee -- knowing full-well it would be passed along to the customer -- without having any accountability to that customer. Does this mean a private citizen cannot legally haul his/her own solid waste to an alternate facility for disposal?

I suppose this is another example of a probably-well-intentioned regulation that has been poorly thought-out in terms of unintended consequences. Hope we don't see any parallels in the upcoming "bailout" of Wall Street/financial institutions!

Good questions and comments all. What do you think?

Posted by L.K. Williams, EPonline on Oct 14, 2008

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