By Don Keelan
Steve Eder’s New York Times article published in the Dec. 30 Rutland Herald described how regulatory fatigue has overcome the operations at Indian Ladder Farms, in Altamont, New York. While the story describes an agricultural site in New York, it is quite relevant to Vermont.
Peter G. Ten Eyck II operates a 300-acre apple orchard south of Albany with his son and daughter. The 79-year-old apple grower is the fifth generation attempting to keep the family orchard sustainable.
In addition to all of the threats that an apple grower must contend with — weather, insects, lack of pollination, and a labor force at harvest time — Mr. Ten Eyck must also deal with multiple federal, state and county representatives at his orchard.
Between May and October, an extremely busy time for any apple grower, Mr. Ten Eyck has to spend time, show records, and answer questions from representatives of the EPA, OSHA, USDA, FDA, DOL and DHS. The government agents are at his farm to check on environmental issues, employee safety concerns, fruit sanitation issues, living conditions, and documentation and housing for the seasonal imported workforce.
Steve Eder notes in his piece that Mr. Ten Eyck is required to be in compliance with 17 federal regulations that contain over 5,000 restrictions and rules relevant to orchard agriculture. To stay in compliance takes time and money and has an immeasurable physical and emotional price, according to the orchard owner. Is it any wonder why the small farmer/orchard owner becomes fatigued and sells out to corporate agricultural giants?
There are many businesses in Vermont that are also experiencing regulatory fatigue imposed by state and federal agencies. If Gov. Phil Scott, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Tim Ashe, as well as our congressional leaders, are sincere about curtailing regulatory fatigue, they should listen to those who on a daily basis are required to comply with the thousands of pages of regulations.
I suggest that our leaders establish a meeting that has one representative from the following fields: medical, construction, tourism, manufacturing, farming, logging, transportation, finance/banking, food and energy, and have the individual representative describe the tomes of regulations they must adhere to in order not to be out of compliance, fined, jailed or put out of business.
In Vermont, most folks would like to see businesses, farms, tourism, and residential sites on a scale that fits into the Vermont sense of place. As Mr. Ten Eyck points out, this is no longer feasible when you must operate in today’s regulatory environment. He noted: “More of our fruits and vegetables will be grown by large domestic producers who can afford to comply with the regulations — at the expense of smaller competitors.”
I can attest to Ten Eyck’s statement. Forty years ago, my real estate developer partner testified before a committee of the Connecticut Legislature on strengthening that state’s condominium laws. A member of the committee had asked my partner what he thought of the proposed regulation and my partner responded by saying, “The proposed legislation is not stringent enough and should be made more so.” Asked why by the legislator, the response was such that one could hear a pin drop in the committee hearing room: “Because if you make the condominium regulations stronger you will eliminate my company’s competition, something I could never do legally but you can.”
No one is suggesting that we do away with regulations either at the federal or state level. What is being suggested is that a more common sense approach be adopted. That wherever possible, the regulations be streamlined and duplication eliminated. Also, those who are in the regulatory enforcement business adopt the mantra common sense there is more value in educating than regulating.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.