Regulations Crush Environmental Innovation

Regulations Crush Environmental Innovation

The Cahoons’ story is a stark reminder of how excessive red tape can crush the dreams of entrepreneurs and stifle innovative solutions to our most pressing environmental challenges.

In the wake of dire warnings about climate catastrophe, Gov. Greg Gianforte says the best approach to solving environmental challenges is to remove government barriers to innovation.

“We shouldn’t be picking winners and losers, but we can get the friction out of the way so innovators and entrepreneurs can pursue [solutions],” he said in a recent interview.

The governor is right. Research clearly shows the countries with the most economic freedom — meaning a low regulatory burden and sound rule of law — also have the cleanest environments.

Montana entrepreneurs are ready and willing to leverage innovative technology to address our biggest environmental challenges, but government red tape often stands in the way.

Levi and Brianne Cahoon are young entrepreneurs in Seeley Lake who can tell you first-hand how excessive regulations have doomed their innovative idea to revolutionize public land management with drone technology.

Levi has worked for 11 years with his family’s logging company and knows noxious weeds are a big problem for Montana’s ecosystems. Noxious weeds destroy landscapes by “displacing native plant species, increasing soil erosion and decreasing wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities,” according to the Montana Department of Agriculture. While there’s lots of machinery to help loggers harvest trees, Levi noticed seeding new trees and spraying herbicide for noxious weeds is a labor-intensive part of land management still mostly done by hand. This makes staying on top of the 197,000 acres of Montana state lands infested with noxious weeds an almost impossible task.

But Cahoon and his business partner say drones can do the work of six people spraying weeds at any given time — a game changer for public land management. Even better, drones can reach into terrains not easily accessible by foot and require far less chemicals per acre than manual spraying.

Seeing the opportunity to use drones to solve a big environmental problem, Cahoon and his cousin David Cahoon founded Cahoon Aerial Systems on May 8, 2020. It’s been almost a year and a half, and they still have no indication whether government regulators will approve their business.

The problem? Government regulations say drones can only carry up to 55 pounds. Carrying herbicide pushes Cahoon’s drones above 55 pounds, requiring a special exemption from traditional aircraft registration which is a long and complicated process for small businesses to navigate — with no guarantee of approval.

All this red tape has left these young entrepreneurs with no choice but to sell their business. They couldn’t continue waiting for government approval.

Brianne told my organization in a recent interview they were “so excited to be able to do something a little bit newer, a little innovative, maybe something people really haven’t seen much of. Then, it’s just so discouraging not to be able to do what you had intended your business to do because of not being able to get through the process.”

The Cahoons’ story is a stark reminder of how excessive red tape can crush the dreams of entrepreneurs and stifle innovative solutions to our most pressing environmental challenges.

If you listen to the critics, efforts to reduce red tape will only help fatten the bottom line of big corporations and degrade our environment. The truth is the people most harmed by excessive regulations are not the fat cats, it’s entrepreneurial little guys like the Cahoons, who have an innovative idea that could help save our environment.

This article originally appeared in Lee Newspapers

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