Sunday, April 18, 2010

How are Those New Environmental Laws Doing?

If you have been following the Climate Change debates in Congress, you know well enough how hard it is to get any kind of environmental law passed. Besides dealing with economic hardships and compliance hurdles that have to be figured out when considering any new law, there are still large swaths of public officials who don’t even believe we have environmental problems, or looming catastrophes like Climate Change. “Global Warming is just a hoax” is continually piped by the uninformed ideologues, despite all evidence to the contrary.

So, it’s no wonder that those who care about our environment and read the depressing litany of environmental disasters (oil spills, melting glaciers, water shortages) get excited when a few environmental laws do get passed. Hey, they may be a drop in the bucket for a planet headed towards environmental collapse, but at least there is forward movement.

But, what about those environmental laws that do get passed? After all that haggling and foot dragging (can you think of any environmental law that was a slam dunk?), are these new laws having any effect? Have any news agency editors, as they sit around and chew over what to feed the public, asked their collective selves, “Hey, how about that new law that was passed a year or so ago, is anyone paying attention to it?” My guess is that most media editors don’t go around looking for this kind of trouble (since those who lost during a new law’s debate are probably still fuming). Why bother, when they have stacks of car crashes and the endless shenanigans of sports heroes who continually let their fans and advertisers down.

Two local laws come to mind that Rochester-area editors should consider investigating. The first is the Pesticide Neighbor Notification Law in Monroe County that requires various groups applying pesticides to provide certain types of notification to neighbors. This law became effective January 1, 2006. The second is the Open Burning Regulations that prohibits the outdoor burning of leaves, papers and other waste materials all across New York State. This one became law October 14, 2009.

Both laws are bold regulations that attempt to protect our environment and our health. But I question how many are actually complying with these hard-won laws. When I drive through the country, I often see what looks to be a barrel out in someone’s yard, spewing what looks to be smoke. They don’t look like a barbeque or a sizzling, rotating pig roast. And the last time I heard of a news organization checking on the Notification Law, it reported that this law was “largely Ignored.” (from Lawn care law largely ignored — (April 15, 2006) Democrat and Chronicle)

But, what do I know? I’m not a reporter. Maybe I’m just a cynic. Maybe it’s just hard for me to believe that both behaviors—spraying pesticides hither and yon without any warning, and burning up trash in the backyard—did come to a screeching halt just because these laws were passed. So maybe if there’s a slow day at the press, an intrepid investigative reporter (if there are still any on the payroll), might check this out. There was, after all, a point to making these laws in the first place.

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