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Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.

Pro-business politicians like to tell us how burdensome government regulations are, but they seldom give examples. On the campaign trail they’ll say, “We have to relieve the burden of burdensome regulations,” but they seldom burden us with specifics. It’s enough to know there are regulations and that they are burdensome, and that we should leave it up to the politicians to fix matters.

We thought you would like at least one example of a business hurt by governmental interference, so here it is:

In the village of Twain Harte, Calif., there is a single gas station, but it hasn’t pumped so much as a pint of unleaded for months. Its owners, Wayne and Lori Smith, have been getting by on the income from mechanic services. Locals have had to drive miles down the mountain to fuel up.

Now, the Smiths installed new underground tanks several years ago, and their pump nozzles were fitted with vapor recovery systems that captured more than 90 percent of the gasoline fumes attendant on fueling vehicles.

Enter the California Air Resources Board. This is a quasi-legislative body. Strike that. This is a body in which the state Legislature has vested legislative powers, to wit, the authority to decide how to combat air pollution.

The ARB told the Smiths – and, one assumes, every filling station in the state – new vapor recovery systems could suck up two percent more of the gas fumes than their existing system. They were directed to put them on all their pumps.

You’ll ask: How expensive could that be, for a filling station with a single pump island and four nozzles? Try tens of thousands of dollars. The Smiths had to have an enhanced vapor recovery system. (This is exhaustively defined on the ARB website, which also specifies “spitting” standards, which we won’t get into here.)

The Smiths declined to spend the money and locked up their pumps. As the months rolled by, the Smiths learned that another state agency, the Water Resources Control Board, might be able to help out. They applied for a grant, and the board is coming to the rescue with about $50,000 for various upgrades, including enhanced vapor recovery. The money will come from the state’s gasoline tax.

Thus, the ARB, for a marginal increase in vapor recovery:

  • Caused the Smiths to lose revenue from gasoline sales,
  • Deprived the Twain Harte community of a needed service,
  • Added to air pollution by causing residents to drive farther to gas up, and
  • Ended up dropping the cost of putting the Smiths back in business on the California taxpayer.

Wayne Smith told the local daily newspaper, the Sonora Union Democrat, “It would almost be nice not to have the gas headache, but I get lots of requests from the community, so we’re going to (start pumping again).”

And his wife, Lori, plans a celebration with live band and “lots of gassy food.”

One may only speculate on how many other mom-and-pop filling stations have felt the same regulatory impact but, as the ARB is a statewide body and California is a big state, there probably were many who either cut back service or went out of business.

Do you want to open a gasoline station in the Golden State? Consider just a little verbiage from the ARB website: “A pressure transducer, plus a flow sensor, combined with a data-logger do not make an ISD (In-station diagnostic) system. Numerous other elements are required in order to have even a simple functional system. Thus, the installed cost of an ISD system is not merely the sum of ‘x’ pressure transducers, ‘y’ flow meters, one data-logger, plus installation labor. ISD systems will have to be ‘packaged.’ Packaging involves engineering, integration of all of the components, software, wiring, alarms, electrical switchgear, control panels and boxes to house the components, etc.”

The Air Resources Board wants Californians to breathe easier, but potential entrepreneurs are likely to gag on the implicit warning in the language above.

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