Reform-minded lawmakers in both the House and Senate are pushing legislation to bolster the work-safety protections for miners working underground. But don't try to convince Rand Paul.
The Republican running to replace outgoing Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) in the coal-mining hub of Kentucky said recently that Washington has no business formulating mine safety rules.
"The bottom line is: I'm not an expert, so don't give me the power in Washington to be making rules," Paul said at a recent campaign stop in response to questions about April's deadly mining explosion in West Virginia, according to a profile in Details magazine. "You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You'd try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don't, I'm thinking that no one will apply for those jobs."
"I know that doesn't sound ... I want to be compassionate, and I'm sorry for what happened, but I wonder: Was it just an accident?"
And you know what? Contrary to blogger Steve Benen, I agree with Paul… to a point. Elected officials AREN'T qualified to decide which technologies a business should implement. But that doesn't mean that government shouldn't be involved at all. The solution is simply to impose enormous liability for accidents on the mining companies, giving them an incentive to invest in better safety equipment to reduce the risk of massive lawsuits. That is, rather than require that specific accident-preventing methods be used, government should simply raise the cost of accidents and let business figure out the best methods to prevent them.
Incidentally, this is also why cap-and-trade should really be called capitalism-and-trade. In contrast to a regulatory approach that mandates specific carbon-reducing technologies, cap-and-trade is a market-based approach that gives businesses a target for carbon reductions and then allows them to figure out how to get there. A regulatory approach is uniform, costly, and sometimes hampers innovation, while a market-based approach is flexible, cheap, and spurs innovation.
The broader point speaks to the proper role of government: while government shouldn’t prescribe specific methods which business must adopt to achieve goals, it certainly has a role in determining which goals are necessary to achieve—whether a safer workplace, healthier communities, or reduced carbon emissions.