The Mises Institute monthly, free with membership
Volume 15, Number 11
by Shawn Ritenour
Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency presume to protect us from all sorts of
supposed evils. But in doing so, no bureaucrats, save the tax collectors, are more vicious in their
trampling of property rights. For example, they have made life miserable for people who own
auto salvage and parts companies, and the drivers who depend on them.
Salvage companies provide an invaluable service to mechanics and owners of older
providing parts at a fraction of the cost of newly made items. Even more crucial is their function
as a supplier of parts that are no longer manufactured.
When the steering wheel on my beloved 1981 Ford Granada became loose, I naturally took it
local garage. The mechanic told me that a part had broken and that Ford no longer manufactures
it. My car was already becoming less and less safe to drive. Without this part, it might have to be
Thankfully it was spared this fate. A local salvage yard was able to supply the part off a
on its premises. Here is old-fashioned recycling at its best. These cars would otherwise be useless
trash. But the market economy makes it possible to turn them to good use. For all the
pro-recycling propaganda you hear out of Washington, you might think the EPA would celebrate
renewal of resources. Not so.
Consider the case of J&M Quality Used Auto Parts, a family-owned salvage parts business
Buffalo, Missouri. Last year, after J&M had paid the usual $90,000 in taxes, the government
thanked the owners by sending out the EPA to take a look around. The snoopers found that some
oil from the junked autos was leaking onto the dirt.
The federal agents then informed the owners that, if they wanted to stay in business, they
have to put all their cars up on blocks, with gravel and steel drip pans under them. It is irrelevant
to the EPA that J&M owns the property that is being dripped upon, and that a salvage yard is a
naturally drippy place.
This is clearly an unviable command. And certainly customers are happy with matters the
they are. J&M provides a valuable service for customers, and business is good.
Has anyone checked oil leaks in the EPA's own fleet of luxury cars? We know the EPA is
capable of egregious hypocrisy. In 1992, the fleet of fancy autos maintained by the EPA for its
staff got an average of 6.9 miles-per-gallon. This is 75 percent lower than the fuel efficiency
standards the federal government is trying to force on American consumers.
If J&M does have to close its gates, as its owners fear, the cars will still be on their property,
some of them still dripping oil. Shutting down J&M will not stop the force of gravity. But if the
EPA has its way, local customers will have to incur higher costs in trying to locate necessary
Thank goodness my Granada is up and running again. I'm safe so long as J&M and other
yards stay open--and the EPA doesn't discover that little oil leak from my car.
Shawn Ritenour teaches economics at Southwest Baptist University.
FURTHER READING: "Hazardous: The Tyrant's Plea" in Lost Rights by James
York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1994), pp. 69-76; Trashing the Economy: How Runaway
Environmentalism Is Wrecking America by Ron Arnold and Alan Gottlieb (Bellevue,
Free Enterprise Press, 1993); "The Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto" by Llewellyn H. Rockwell,
Jr. (Burlingame, Calif.: RRR, 1991).