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It’s something of a fad among political candidates these days to argue that our economy is burdened by “too many regulations,” and the “government should get out of the way” of private enterprise. But environmental crises like the ones recently dominating the news in Hoosick Falls, New York and Flint, Michigan prove beyond a doubt that, when it comes to health and safety, it’s the lack of government regulation and oversight that is the real problem.
Why is it that PFOA (also known as C8), the dangerous compound that has poisoned the Village water in Hoosick Falls, went undetected, apparently for years? How could the State of Michigan permit the use of water that would generate high levels of lead and other toxins in the domestic supply serving Flint?
The answers to these questions are simple, and they are the same: government failed to protect citizens. Due largely to corporate lobbying (and an orchestrated cover-up) PFOA was never listed as a federally regulated hazardous substance, and public suppliers were not even required to test for it in municipal systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act, making the protections of that statute non-existent for entire populations. The unfettered application of a “business model” to governmental oversight permits inadequate sampling and testing of large urban water delivery systems ̶ a deficiency that is one of the root causes of the disaster in Flint, along with the State’s Department of Environmental Quality’s abject failure to respond to early evidence of pollution.
Regulatory failures like these create dangerous conditions affecting many important areas, including food safety, the transportation of toxic chemicals, and the production of carbon fuels through conventional and unconventional methods such as “fracking.”
It is little wonder that the same powerful interests that seek to create a deregulated environment also seek to curtail lawsuits brought by plaintiffs injured as a result of corporate and governmental wrongdoing. In many instances, a lawsuit represents victims’ last and best chance to obtain some measure of compensation for the harm they have suffered because the government failed to protect them.