Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lonnie Poole, March 22, 1999. Interview I-0085. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Opposition to big government

In this excerpt, Poole shares his objection to big government. He thinks that a big government is an unwieldy government. And control over garbage gives government too much power—there is a constitutional issue at stake, Poole believes. He hopes that in the future, technology will help Americans deal with the environmental quandaries people decide with their emotions, often at great cost to society.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lonnie Poole, March 22, 1999. Interview I-0085. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JM: Any last thoughts on issues I haven't raised that you think are important to this broad sort of survey that we're making here? I have one other question that actually has popped into my mind. Maybe while you're thinking on that, let me go ahead and ask. How about your sense of the state's spending priorities these days. Are you essentially more or less happy with how the state's spending your tax dollars or do you see the need for certain programs that aren't being brought forward? I’m thinking too--. LP: I’m not so sure that I could, you know the state spends money on things that it probably shouldn't. On the other hand this company spends money on things it shouldn’t too. The difference is that, there's a huge difference in magnitude and size, and the state of North Carolina has become a very, very big enterprise. I really do believe that government has a difficult time of becoming decentralized with its citizen legislature. The end result is that I guess what I would have to say is that government runs the danger of getting so big that it loses all kinds of efficiencies. END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A JM: 3.22.99-LP.2 the second cassette in the March 22, 1999 interview with Mr. Lonnie Poole of Waste Industries in his office in Raleigh, North Carolina. We're just spending the last few minutes here on the last couple of issues. LP: We were talking about government and its spending priorities. By and large I don’t think I can argue with it but I think if I got into some real micromanagement, that's kind of where I see things. I see things where the rubber meets the road. In small towns and programs that the government puts in, I guess my criticism would be that the government gets so big and so inefficient that it has difficulty being nimble enough and especially when governed by a volunteer, not volunteer, but citizen representatives that it just becomes highly inefficient. I guess I'm philosophically against big government, and I'm certainly all in favor of government making every attempt to get things done by the people for themselves as opposed to the government trying to be all things to all people. JM: Any big issues the company has a key interest in in front of I mean over in Raleigh these days or up in Washington? Any issue that's pending that would matter a lot to you specifically? LP: An issue that's been around since 1904 involves flow control of garbage. What that does is it gives governmental entities the right to control where garbage must go. That unto itself sounds good because government in order to manage it must control it. Unfortunately, any time you can control something like garbage, it's an awesome amount of power. In fact, it serves as what should be a regulated utility. Unfortunately, in the case of flow controls, governmental entities were granted the authority and power to control the flow but without regulation, especially without economic regulation. That particular matter has been heard by the Supreme Court I believe six times. I think right now it is dead even, three wins and three losses for the private sector and vice versa. Currently it is an interference with interstate commerce to control the flow of garbage. In other words, garbage can move back and forth across state lines virtually unimpeded so long as it is in compliance with other regulations that have to do with public health and safety. To artificially to cause it to go one place or the other is unconstitutional. I don't think it's gone away because it's such an awesome amount of power, and it has so many dollars involved. I can't see that municipal and county governments will let that dog rest very long. So there will either be other forms of manipulation of the waste stream, or there will be a resurrection of flow control. Once again we'll go back to the Supreme Court, and we'll hear it all over again. That has been going on ever since I have been in this industry. It is our thing that goes on forever. I guess the second big thing that's going on now is that for a great part of my career and history of this company, I believe we've been guided to too great of an extent by political expediency and public emotion and too little by good science. By that I mean that we do things because it's simple to explain and it, we believe it to be right. A great example is, a green bottle. There's a Heineken's bag right there. Heinekens makes beer and Heinekens puts them in green bottles. There is more environmental harm to picking up and recycling a Heineken green bottle than it is if we just simply bury it in the ground. That's the scientific answer, but the public emotion answer is we're going to recycle that bottle even if it hurts us. That's kind of where we are. I think in the next couple of years, a think called a lifecycle analysis that will emerge. It will be computer driven. It will give us the ability to investigate the environmental burden placed on where we live by virtually any product. It will tell us in the first place whether to make it or not. If we do make it, whether to reuse it or to recycle it or to bury it in the ground or to burn it. The answer in various locations will change and the answer as to what we do with a clear glass bottle in Los Angeles, may not be necessarily what we do with a clear glass bottle in Phoenix, Arizona. Yet they're only a matter of three or four hundred miles apart. That's currently being done in the EPA. The EPA is the primary driving agency. But for the most part is being done with private dollars with private oversight. The reason I bring it up is that after I got out of the trade association, I got involved in a thing called the Research and Education foundation, Environmental Research and Education Foundation which raises private dollars to fund such projects. That's one of them. So that's one of the things, one of the activities going on. The upshot of that is that in the next ten years, the companies that are successful that are in the environmental business will be those that are innovative, and they bring to bear good science possibly to the exclusion in some cases of the politics and public emotions.