As a sometimes environmentalist, I’m familiar with having to defend policies or procedures enacted to preserve our natural resources. This is, admittedly, not always an easy task. Nor has it improved since our relocation to Kansas, less the fabled (if not iconic) heartland as much as the heart of the uber-conservative Republican mindset for whom the environment is something to be harnessed, harvested and exploited, and environmentalists nothing more than pot-smoking hippie activists. Here, the common view is that the government is the problem rather than the solution, that most regulations and legislation are senseless and intrusive, written by idiots, lunatics and Democrats. Which, of course, are the same thing.
Sensible topics for discussion at the local coffee shop do not involve anything associated with global warming (unless in ridicule), the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the EPA, ANWR, off-shore drilling, PETA, Barney Frank, gays, energy from coal, the legitimacy of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate or welfare. (God forbid one should broach the welfare-versus-farm subsidies issue, a surefire conversation stopper; it’s like asking for a chicken sandwich at the sale barn on auction day.)
A sane liberal, Democrat-voting environmentalist learns to keep his opinions undisclosed and hidden. For the most part I’ve done just that, though a situation has arisen that leads me to believe that preserving the environment is one thing, and wishing for a massive earthquake to send California sliding into the deepest depths of the Pacific quite another.
To my friends in the Golden State, I can only offer my condolences. I’d miss you. But let us not forget that it was you, and you alone, who allowed the passage of the CARB-compliant legislation that has now been amended into national Environmental Protection Agency standards.
And did I say “amended”? Subsumed, enlarged, expanded, engorged, broadened, augmented into a policy even more stringent (breathtakingly so) and restrictive.
Of course, living in the hinterlands I knew nothing of this until it was too late.
It started when Lori started itching. Now, itching isn’t unusual summertime behavior for active Kansans, not with the hordes of bloodsucking insects infesting the state. This year’s moisture and humidity have created fertile conditions for chiggers, in particular. It’s to the point where any trip outside, even if only to walk from the house to the car, is tantamount to rolling in a field of alfalfa. Red welts pop up seemingly at will; this evening while barbecuing I received a half dozen new bites and I’d been on a concrete porch the entire time!
Her itching turned into a rash that spread, well, just about everywhere. Her face swelled up, one eye almost closed—she was the very epitome of misery. She’s always been deathly allergic to poison ivy and it was soon clear that she’d tangled with a patch and the patch had won.
Fortunately, we had on hand several brands and varieties of poison ivy treatment. Unfortunately, none of them worked. We bought new medications and tried a dozen homeopathic recipes; she soaked in epsom salts and vinegar; she liberally powdered herself with Gold Bond; but mostly she itched and scratched and in every which way grew worse.
It had to have come from the garden, but which one? She’s been working at a test plot in Marysville (the Garden From Hell, I call it—don’t ask), but when I last studied it I could find no leaves of three. Nor did our garden show signs of poison ivy. I’m not expert nor am I a botanist, but it seems that young growths of poison ivy closely resemble velvetweed in its infancy, or even tiny walnut saplings. Considering that the perimeter of our garden is a riot of indiscriminate growth, it’s probable that somewhere within that green vegetative maze is a strand of two of her bane.
Clearly, it had to go. So I ordered a string trimmer, a good one, even an expensive one, alleged to have a one-pull start and enough power to cut down the Empire State Building.
I ordered extra industrial-strength string, a fancy “no-brainer” attachment (definitely needed in my case), and some synthetic oil for the gas mixture. Then I dropped by our local hardware for a new two-gallon gas can.
Which is where things went bad. Mark didn’t have gas cans as I knew them: he had the new EPA-approved, California Air Resources Board-compliant gas cans. They were still made out of plastic, still chigger-welt red, but they sported a fancy gizmo that was part pump, part pressure valve, part lock and part spring mechanism in place of a simple funnel.
The worst part: they cost $5 more than the previous versions.
With assistance from several other customers, we scrutinized the new spout. We read the directions and tried performing them step by step, only to be rebuffed. We tried it upside down and backwards, we followed the instructions in reverse order, we swore and fumed and used language we almost felt ashamed to use but felt warranted under the circumstances.
“How the *@$# does it work?” I asked.
“Damned if I know,” Mark said. “That’ll be ten bucks.”
According to the EPA’s website, the new cans reduce gas fumes from escaping into the environment. What the EPA failed to disclose is that the new spouts refuse to dispense gas. A very brief online check revealed hundreds of customer complaints, most of which stressed that they might indeed prevent gas fumes escaping into the atmosphere but they also leak everywhere but out the nozzle, which somewhat negates their primary function. Review after review excoriated the new spouts.
For 26 years I made a living working with my wits and my hands. The new CARB-compliant spout was beyond my meager capabilities. As advertised, it was definitely spill proof. I could turn the can upside down and sideways and nary a drop would escape.
Nor would a drop, a trickle or a gush escape from the spout, despite my most fervent efforts to fathom the instructions. When I finally managed to get gas flowing, it was around the spout’s base where it screwed into the can. Spilling a half gallon of gas onto my patio, my pants, my boots and into the atmosphere was the final straw. I ended up rooting around in the shed until I found another can that would substitute.
I’m all for saving the environment and protecting our air and water. I’m not for mindlessly restrictive policies that turn the simplest pieces of basic equipment into a nightmare of safety features that make them not only much more expensive but utterly useless. Somewhere along the line we’ve crossed the border of rationality into a wilderness of regulations that benefit only manufacturers, lawyers and pencil-pushers. We might be saving a small fraction of our natural resources, but we’re driving thousands of Americans insane in the bargain.
If and when the human race gets serious about preserving the planet, it won’t be through over-engineered gas cans. What’s needed, desperately so, are fewer regulations, fewer bureaucrats, fewer states (adios California!) and fewer people. I wouldn’t bet a plug nickel on any of it.
The good news is that the trimmer performed flawlessly. The bad news is that old-style, functional gas cans are no longer being sold. That hasn’t stopped me from searching high and low on the Internet, though. Brother, please, have mercy—can you spare a gas can?