Don’t always blame the regulators

I’m an environmental regulator that is currently embroiled in a small but insane situation thanks to government mandates and an industry that is apparently short-sighted and unimaginative. It’s a story that speaks to greater issues of government regulation, which implies a lesson for environmental oversight.

In July, I had a new entry door fitted for an upstairs bathroom. I wanted the door to be a retro-looking, ten-pane French door with smoked glass. This way light can go in and out while maintaining privacy. The contractor installed the door at night. The next morning, as the sun came streaming through the window, I noticed what you see at right. All ten panes had clear writing in the smoked glass. The writing is the text of various industry codes to assure any building inspector passing by that the glass is tempered safety glass.

Now, imagine seeing all ten panes with their laser-like points in the bottom corner. It's like ten evenly-spaced supernovae in a smoky sky. Worse, one can get close to the writing and peer in.

Now, I understand the need for some sort of code so that building inspectors can check boxes on inspection forms to note that safety glass is indeed on the premises. But the manufacturer’s method of compliance with this regulation is lazy. It makes the door ugly and unusable. (And so my contractor and painter must create some sort of fix so that the door looks good and isn’t punctured with peep holes.)

As a regulator, I work with industries all the time to help them meet our requirements, and do so in a way that makes sense—in a way that works for everyone. I guess this door manufacturer and their regulators don’t try very hard to make things work well.

Granted, sometime we regulators go overboard in our requirements. And sometimes some of us do not wish to listen to different ways of doing things—even if they are better ways. But sometimes it's the regulated community that acts inappropriately by silently complying with the letter of the law while grumbling to everyone else (which, in the case of this door, I’ve heard plenty of from salespeople).

Regulated communities have to be partners in the process of making the world a safer, cleaner, better place. When they ignore this responsibility, they not only harm themselves (and their customers) but the regulatory process itself.

If this is true for bathroom doors, imagine how much more this is the case for protecting public health and global ecosystems.

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.