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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sometimes the Anti-Regulation Crowd Has a Point

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has made a number of admirable stabs in the direction of creating a greener New York. He hasn’t always succeeded and he hasn’t always been helped by the state (which nixed congestion pricing for cars in midtown) or the feds (who just quashed the requirement that we move to hybrid taxis).

The recent experience of the Episcopal General Theological Seminary in Chelsea suggests that Mayor Bloomberg would help his own agenda if he could clear some cobwebs from —and create some efficient interconnections between—a variety of city bureaucracies.

The Seminary has been trying to replace its heating and cooling systems with geothermal power: safe, clean, efficient, and close to free once you’ve paid off the (substantial) capital costs. To do this, they need to drill a number of very deep wells, to tap the groundwater under Manhattan (drill there, drill quick!). The system is online, though not yet complete.

So far, according to the project manager, quoted in the New York Times, they have gone 50% over the initial budget estimate, and taken three times as much time as they should have. They ascribe both of these problems to the inefficiencies of the 10 regulatory agencies from which they required permissions.

I am in favor of the MTA making sure that a drill bit doesn’t tear through the roof of the A Train. And I’m inclined to see most anti-regulatory quailing as the self-interested cant of cynical ideologues (I know, lets deregulate the financial sector! That’ll work out really well!).

But when the response of the city Department of Transportation, after a three month delay, is reported to be (again from the Times) that they can’t report on status, because the project “has no status,” when their answer to what can be done to get the project moving? is, “you can’t get it moving,” well. . . sounds like a regulatory failure to me.

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