'World News' Shows How Environmental Regulations Backfire

Call it a preview of what could happen when the U.S. government steps in to regulate where carbon emissions by making it too expensive to burn fossil fuels – they’ll be exported overseas and burned anyway, negating the perceived benefit.

A July 30 segment on ABC’s “World News with Charles Gibson” showed what happens to so-called e-waste, that is, old computers and televisions. In fact, they’re shipped overseas.

“Back overseas, we were surprised to learn many of the old computers and televisions in the U.S. end up in Africa, endangering children there,” fill-in anchor Elizabeth Vargas said.

According to the segment, a lot of electronic waste winds up in Ghana, where children scavenge through it for scrap metal, which they sell and earn a dollar day – but at the risk of jeopardizing their health.

“Sometimes they set fire to computers in order to extract the copper wiring to sell, which unleashes a toxic soup of chemicals,” ABC correspondent Ron Claiborne said.

According to Claiborne other countries don’t allow their e-waste to be exported in accordance to terms a treaty. But he showed even U.S. government bureaucracies are sending waste overseas, ironically including the Environmental Protection Agency’s own e-waste.

“For almost every country in the world, it is illegal to send this kind of electronic waste to another country, but not the U.S.,” Claiborne said. “The U.S. is one of three nations that did not ratify a treaty banning the exportation of this kind of e-waste.”

Why could companies pay the steep cost of shipping this material overseas? Because trying to dispose of it domestically is too costly thanks to strict U.S. environmental laws.

“Recyclers ship this kind of waste overseas because the U.S. has strict regulations for disposing of electronics domestically, plus it’s far cheaper,” Claiborne added.

However, if the U.S. loosened restrictions on e-waste it could encourage disposal of the waste in a much more environmentally friendly way, as Japan has discovered.