The Montana Regulation Project

by lizard

I must admit, when I think of regulations, I usually think of necessary government oversight of Big Business to keep the public safe. Deregulation, or lax regulation, in my mind, are significant contributing factors to our economic crisis and major environmental disasters, like the BP blow out in the Gulf of Mexico and Fukushima nuclear disaster.

If you have similar knee-jerk thoughts, I’d suggest maybe putting those thoughts aside for a moment, then go check out The Montana Regulation Project. Here’s the mission:

As the amount of local, county and state regulation increases, the ability of Montana citizens to exercise their rights under Montana’s Constitution Article II “of pursuing life’s basic necessities” has become increasingly difficult. While we understand the state’s interest in protecting the public through regulation we also understand that the regulatory corpus becomes outdated, ineffective, and presents barriers to entry for people working in their own interest and needs continual review for rationality, cost effectiveness and process efficiency in order to provide for the economically disadvantaged to rightfully earn a living in the economic pursuit of their choosing.

We are convinced that the regulatory burden falls disproportionately hard on individuals who hope to create and trade products and services who are in the initial start-up or early expansion phase of small business enterprises and that certain regulations are in place either from a poor understanding of the risks posed to the public or by regulatory capture of special interest who, under the banner of public interest, gain by limiting the entry of new competition and market participants. Additionally, over time the bureaucratic processes of regulation become equally prohibitive for new and growing market entrants and increase in perpetuity for the convenience of the regulators at the expense of the regulated.

Thus, the goal of The Montana Regulation Project (The Project) is to reduce the regulatory barriers to entry for first stage growth and other small enterprises to the greatest extent possible without damaging the public interest.

I applaud the focus of this project on “barriers to entry for first stage growth” because that is the stage where regulation can function as a disincentive for developing new, small businesses.

In Missoula, the story of the empanada lady is what first clued me in to the problem of regulations divorced from common sense.

In June of 2008, Kim Olson (the empanada lady) and Steve McGregor showed up to a City Council meeting to talk about the costly dilemma she faced:

The “empanada lady” wasn’t on the agenda, but she and Steve McGregor, of McGregor Mobile Foods, showed up to say that an odd rule is keeping them from using the kitchens they rent.

Officials approved the kitchen she uses at Bear’s Brew sometime in the past two years, she said. But when a business changes hands, the building needs to meet code.

And in this case, that means putting in a thousand-gallon underground tank to catch grease, Olson said. But she said she produces – at the most – just 2 cups of grease a week.

There’s another problem, too, said McGregor. That’s the high cost of one of those grease traps, at some $80,000.

The rule is meant to keep grease from going into the wastewater system, but McGregor said it also puts a severe hurt on small businesses.

“For the local guy, it doesn’t work very well,” he said.

An $80,000 grease trap system to deal with 2 cups of grease a week? Yeah, I’d say that’s unnecessary.

Local food is one area I hope The Montana Regulation Project will look at. Considering one of the two Montana bloggers involved in this project now dabbles in producing artisan cheeses, I’m certain that will be something he will be interested in bringing attention to.

Initially, just shedding light on the process might be of benefit to anyone looking to invest in starting a small business. The more folks know what they’re getting into, the better they can plan for what they’ll need to take the risk.

  1. Dave Budge

    Thanks for link, Lizard. And no, there’s no “secret intention”. I’ve actually just sent an email Kim Olson asking for an interview and I plan on going to Lunch In The Park on Wed to see what other concerns there are.

    Oh, BTW, we’re disparately need of a logo if any of your readers think we’re worthy of a bit of pro bono. As of now we have no funding source except out of the pockets of me and Gregg and we have some things we need to spend our own precious resources on getting this going. So if anyone’s interested shoot me an email at

    The only thing we can offer contributors is a special place in heaven. But at least they’ll have that going for them.

    • lizard19

      oh Dave, you know that tweet was in jest, hence the ;)

      but seriously, I know you mentioned conversations with peeps at the Missoula Food Co-op regarding bringing your cheese to market, so I imagine you’ve gotten a first-hand account of some of the barriers in the food market when it comes to small-scale producers.

    • Dave Budge

      Yeah, in fact I don’t have much hope to reducing the regulation on cheese since the practice involves developing the perfect environment to grow bacteria (that’s what makes cheesemaking so cool.) The task is to grow bacteria that tastes great but isn’t a pathogen. A bit a regulation is called for in the public interest.

      But I would like to fight to buy raw milk or at least figure out how us cheesemakers can buy raw milk for our cheeses. I get raw milk from Idaho and the complexity of the cheese is breathtaking (at least for us foodies) compared to using pasteurized milk.

      But the people at the Co-op just had to spend $10K on an industrial exhaust hood which seems like ridiculous overkill for what they plan to do with the space. And there are many members of the co-op that would like to produce specialty food for sale but the manufacturer’s restriction just keeps them out. This needs a thorough vetting by an environmental hygienist. I’m working on finding one to help.

  2. Steve W

    Promoting legislation that over-regulates the competition is a long time underhanded business tactic, and you guys are right, it stinks.

    However, until we can limit the power of corporations to purchase laws at their whim, I don’t see how we can limit their powers to purchase these kinds of laws.

    i doubt there are lots of incidental law-of-unintended-consequences pieces of legislation out there that just need someone to look at them and reform them. Most of the over-regulation is by design. And those who designed it likely won’t want it changed.

    But that’s just my guess. That might be a good place to start, conduct a survey to see how much is random shortsightedness and how much is by design.


    […] would be curious to hear what The Montana Regulation Project thinks about the role of the PSC in administering this rigorous licensing […]

  2. 2 Blogging is Far From Being Dead | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] the closure of a local Missoula restaurant, Food for Thought, reminded me of Dave Budge’s Montana Regulation Project. Oh, and Aaron, if you’re reading this, how dare you refer to 4&20 Blackbirds as liberal […]

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