Climate Corner: Regulatory burden – must it be so?

May 27, 2023

Vic Elam

There has been a lot of critical conversation lately about the burden that business, industry, and the economy endure because of what many view as unnecessary laws or regulations. Though I cannot speak to all regulations, I have considerable and varied experience with regulatory impact in many different fields and would like to share some insight. The accounts that I share here are just a few select experiences intended to make a point.

I have had the opportunity, or misfortune, depending on your viewpoint, to work in the fishing industry in Alaska. That industry is regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). NMFS gathers information about the health of the fish populations to set harvest regulations that restrict the numbers of different species that can be removed by commercial fishermen and still maintain a healthy population for subsequent years. Commercial fishing vessels are required to have a person on board that is trained by NMFS to monitor and report the amount of catch so that NMFS can track the fishery and close the season when the expendable population has been removed. Those monitors are not hired by the boats they monitor and must follow stringent ethical standards. Without the regulatory oversight of NMFS there is little doubt that the fishing industry would destroy itself by removing more fish than can repopulate. This has been demonstrated in Japan where failure to control commercial fishing has led to major collapses in desirable fish populations. Certainly, our local recreational hunting and fishing seasons and limits are designed to ensure a harvestable population for generations to come.

Consumer protection laws, driving laws, building codes, and much more are put in place to protect ourselves from the actions of others. Laws and regulations are not easily put in place and require the effort and cooperation of our elected officials to enact and enforce. Despite considerable effort from the energy sector industries to manipulate or eliminate laws and regulations, some have been enacted to protect workers and the public. As in other circumstances, these restrictions put on the energy industry serve to protect us from ourselves. The anemic few regulations that made it through the energy industry gauntlet often come under attack even though their intent is to protect public safety.

Although this is not an issue specific to the Mid-Ohio Valley, I have been in a position to observe the tremendous amount of water drawn from many aquifers throughout this country and when I look at a U.S. Geological Survey Report from 2008 that shows that aquifers that underlie critical farmland areas in this country have been depleted to the tune of up to 400 cubic kilometers, it concerns me. I am familiar with farmers who irrigate from aquifers who keep needing to put in deeper wells, and then I see them flood irrigate their fields with water flowing out the other end of the fields filling the drainage ditches. This is where more regulation is needed to protect us from ourselves. As climate change continues to shrink the world’s arable land, the aquifers we deplete may be called on for the worlds’ food supply – they are for a large part already.

Regulatory burden gets a bad rap, but without it our quality of life might be jeopardized. We can lift regulations and the economy might respond favorably, but I would argue that lax regulations are not sustainable and will lead to problems that are not a burden on those who profited from deregulation, but the problems will fall on society.


Vic Elam is a Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action member, an avid outdoorsman, and contributor to organizations that share his concern for our environment and the children we borrow it from.