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Unintended consequences

By Walter Geiger Sports fishermen and fishing guides who concentrate on inshore or flats fishing don’t care much for celebrity chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse. He has done well enough at the celebrity chef business that he is just Emeril – no last name needed. That puts him right up there with Herschel and Elvis, at least in some circles. With all due respect to the late Julia Child, the first of the genre, I’m not much into cooking shows but I am into eating. One of my favorite dishes is blackened redfish. Emeril introduced that delicacy to the masses and, in just a few short months, the masses fell in love with it. This simple creation put Emeril on the map and blackened redfish began to appear on every upscale – and many low scale – menus around the world. Suddenly, the lowly redfish, whom many had viewed as a trash fish for generations, was – sorry, Charlie – King of the Sea. Demand for redfish went up. Commercial fishermen with long lines and nets targeted them in order to cash in on the craze and, you guessed it, redfish populations which had thrived since creation rapidly declined. Government did as government does and ‘˜regulated’ the harvest of redfish. Fishermen and those who guide them had previously been able to load the boat with the hard-fighting reds. Suddenly there were limits enforced by, you guessed it again, fines. Now, in most places you can only fish for reds during certain times of the year. You are generally limited to two fish and they must be ‘˜in the slot’, meaning of a certain measurement. That slot is generally 18-27 inches. Fish outside that range must be thrown back, according to the law. This led directly to rulers being molded into the tops of coolers. Those who love to catch and eat redfish find ways around these regulations and, while redfish populations may have benefitted, sport fishermen have been criminalized when they were not the ones who cut into the redfish numbers to begin with. In almost every case, sportsmen do a far better job protecting species they love to target than government. In fact, government does little or nothing well. Emeril’s legacy dish, though very tasty, had unintended consequences far beyond what he could ever have imagined. A similar thing is going on around here at present and it involves what has become derisively known as the ‘˜lead paint police’. A huge government bureaucracy, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, banned lead paint in 1977 then hired a whole bunch of pinheads to write regulations. That led, of course, to an separate bureaucracy to enforce the regulations the first created. The problem was that almost everything built prior to 1977, particularly homes, had been painted with lead paint since well before the birth of Christ. Lead paint goes back to the ancient Greeks because it lasts. Regulation slowly removed lead paint from the shelves and the painters’ vans’ but it remained on structures, highway markers, bridges etc. just about everywhere. The regulators, not happy with their initial success, knew lead paint would eventually have to be removed so they wrote more silly rules to regulate removal of it (and justify their existence and salaries). Again, people went around the regulations and just painted over the lead paint on their homes and other structures. Now, over 40 years later, this is still a problem. A certain agent of a certain one of these enforcement bureaucracies who supposedly has a girlfriend in the area has begun targeting those hereabouts who decide to strip down the exterior of their homes in order to beautify them. Once a single paint chip tests positive for lead, onerous rules are applied and every chip has to be suitably removed. Should you want to pressure wash a home that may have lead paint applied at any time in the past, you must route all the runoff water through a filtration system. If you do not comply, you just continue to look at an ugly, perhaps half-stripped, house. To comply with regulation, you must hire a painter who is certified. One becomes certified by paying a fee to, you guessed it again, the bureaucracy. Most local painters are not certified and don’t have the time, money or inclination to get certified. Sadly, a few of those who are certified have begun turning in homeowners and uncertified painters who start projects unaware of the heavy governmental fist poised to strike them. So, once again, today’s homeowners – none of whom have access to lead paint or extensive knowledge of the regulations – are criminalized because of work done to their homes 40 or more years ago. Not long ago a local game warden, in describing the actions of some seriously foolish kayakers, noted, ‘Common sense is not very common’. That would be the most accurate mission statement for just about every governmental bureaucracy and its enforcement personnel known to man. They thrive on creating and nurturing unforeseen circumstances and then rejoice in punishing innocents who become entangled in them. All this to save a planet that was doing just fine, thank you, before the first regulation was ever written.

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