Regulations suspended during Florence draw scrutiny

By: Dan Way - Carolina Journal

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper issued several executive orders waiving enforcement of transportation-related regulations to help the agriculture industry prepare for Hurricane Florence. If the rules can be suspended temporarily, why impose them permanently?

One reason is that states must obey federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations dealing with pollution. But after the natural disaster unfolding across North Carolina passes, when possible state officials should make sure regulations affecting daily activities mesh with the best interests of the state and its residents.

That’s the view of Jon Sanders, director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation. “The economic impacts of lifting these restrictions should give state regulators interest into seeing how many of them are really necessary, and if the state’s interests could be better served by relaxing some of them,” Sanders said.

Cooper’s Executive Order No. 53 addressed the need for uninterrupted gasoline supplies due to widespread evacuation from areas most affected by Hurricane Florence. It involved the complex issue of fuel blends, which are heavily regulated.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry granted Cooper’s request for the waiver as “consistent with the public interest.”

“To mitigate any impacts on air quality, the [federal] Clean Air Act provides strict criteria for when fuels waivers may be granted, and requires that waivers be limited as much as possible in terms of their geographic scope and duration,” an EPA news release stated.

The executive order temporarily dispenses with regulations on the volatility of gasoline. Volatility varies seasonally because fuel acts differently in different temperatures. Because gasoline burns differently during different seasons, refineries adjust the blends to reduce pollutants.

Cooper’s Executive Order No. 52 waived vehicle size and weight restrictions, and the maximum hours drivers can transport agricultural goods and emergency supplies. A variety of penalties, permits, and fees were temporarily lifted.

The order states “the uninterrupted supply of electricity, fuel oil, diesel oil, gasoline, kerosene, propane, liquid petroleum, gas, food, water, livestock and poultry feed, and medical supplies to residential and commercial establishments is essential before, during and after the storm, and any interruption in the delivery of those commodities threatens the public welfare.”

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler weighed in on the issue.

“At my recommendation and as allowed by state law, the governor has directed the Department of Public Safety to temporarily suspend weighing vehicles used to transport livestock, poultry, feed, and crops in the emergency area,” Troxler said in a news release.

“These executive orders will allow our farmers the opportunity to harvest as much of their crops as possible before the storm hits. The orders also will help ensure that livestock, poultry and feed can be moved as necessary,” he said.

Andrea Ashby, spokeswoman at the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, told Carolina Journal the regulations suspended by Cooper “seem to strike a workable balance for their intended purposes of allowing commerce, protecting the roadways and infrastructure, and protecting the public.”

In emergencies, farmers harvest at a completely different pace than under normal conditions, which is why the waiver was requested, she said.

The regulations mainly protect roads and bridges, Ashby said.

The order also covers vehicles used for utility restoration and debris removal.

Executive Order No. 51 declared a state of emergency, activating the state’s price-gouging law. It prohibits merchants from raising prices to capitalize on a natural disaster.

“I’ve written consistently against having a price-gouging law because they do more harm than good. By locking in pre-disaster prices they encourage hoarding before the disaster, then prevent more supplies being brought in after the disaster,” Sanders said.

He agreed allowing supply-and-demand principles to flow normally during a natural disaster leads to pushback. Many people have moral and ethical objections to what they view as callous profiteering.

“That is one of the problems in that people do see it as them being taken advantage of, and they don’t realize that in the short term that supply and demand have changed,” Sanders said.

“There’s a greater short-term demand for things people are worried are going to run out, and there’s a greater scarcity of supply because people are buying up more, and it’s harder to get more in because of the situation on the ground” impeding travel and access, Sanders said.

Early bird hoarders usually snap up the existing supply to the detriment of others who might actually have a greater need for the supplies, such as city dwellers who clear grocers’ shelves of drinking water before residents who depend on wells — which can be contaminated by runoff — can buy potable water.

Day Way is a staff writer for Carolina Journal.

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Dan Way

Carolina Journal