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Regulation, government-style, begs for modern methods of limiting bad side effects.
Yet a new concept cannot spread far unless it has a name. To urge change, this column introduces the new terms “integral regulation,” “built-in inspection” and “smart regulation.”
Of necessity, regulation and civilization grew up together. Early societies expanded slowly, from isolated bands to tribes to city-states. Methods of regulating evolved as slowly as civilization.
Regulation began with simple peer pressure, which evolved to tribal traditions and later into early religious themes.
As time crept on, the need for regulation led to governments and politically-set rules.
Technology enters the story. Technologies first were used as they came. The unwanted side effects is that a technology can have become more evident to more people as the technology gains more usage in more places.
In our time, the side effects have come to be examined and judged in a set forum, such as an agency hearing with lawyers, technologists, interested spokesmen of all kinds and the government that is in office.
By such means, a regulation is shaped to limit the harmful side effects. Meanwhile, the pace of technical innovation quickens. Quicker tools emerge quicker.
Some inventions create new needs for regulation. Still others offer new, swifter means of regulating.
Mingled voices now recommend developing model regulations as part of the technology itself.
The ones who develop a technology know its ins and outs before others do. The ones who design a system understand the safety features it has and the keys that make them work properly.
A fresh voice in the discussion is the Electric Power Research Institute, which is the research body of the electric utility industry.
EPRI did a study entitled
“Assessment of Fusion Energy Options for Commercial Electricity Production.” Last October, EPRI issued their
66-page report on the findings.
The report ends with five industrial recommendations for fusion energy. The last of these reads: “Begin to consider the regulatory requirements for commercial fusion power plants in terms of establishing safety and licensing standards.”
The words may be lumbering, but they promote integral regulation and its ready agent, built-in inspection.
The principle of built-in inspection is older than writing; the speed of high-tech came suddenly in motor cars in the 1980’s.
Nature gave us a built-in system for inspecting health. Problems report in as pain. Pain draws treatment to the body parts causing trouble, which limits harm from them.
The automotive version of built-in inspection is “on-board diagnostics,” or OBD for short.
Imagine yourself buzzing along in your Jeep Wrangler when you notice a red light on the dashboard is tugging at you. You know what to do.
At your earliest chance, you have a computer scan the trouble codes in the OBD. Bingo, you just inspected the safety of many subsystems.
Prompt data enable timely repairs, so that worn-down parts do no great harm to yourself or others.
The benefits of built-in inspection continue to spread afield, but not yet to the field of regulating. The EPRI report shows gleams of changes coming.
Eventually efficient regulation will spread far, say as far as deepwater drilling rigs. Like your car, drilling rigs too could have built-in circuitry and scannable diagnostic codes to make regulatory inspections of parts and operations fast and effective.
Sure as daybreak, some interests will fight the first thought of efficient access to regulatory data. We prize technology for its efficiency. It is also the key to efficient inspections.
Built-in inspection is integral to smart regulation. The end result is more productive regulation at lower cost for companies, for taxpayers and for the environment.
New tools are ready for the job.
John Bartlit is associated with New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air and Water.