June 9 2014

Washed Up: Carwashes Outlawed

Patrice J. Lee

Carwashes are one of the many activities that occupy the time of enterprising kids from urban and suburban areas especially over the summer. Whether it’s a church youth group looking to fund their missions trip or cheerleaders and sports teams raising funds for new equipment, charity fundraisers have been a staple in the entrepreneurial tool belt of young people for generations – until now.

Arlington, Va., officials released new rules that limit car washing to only your own car and only in front of your own house, which effectively prohibits fundraising carwashes. Apparently, this is in response to larger regulations in the state limiting permits to local governments and school systems as a means of mitigating the pollution flowing into streams and rivers. As those rules have been tightened, counties have followed suit and we have nonsensical prohibitions like this.

The Washington Post reports:

In Arlington, the tradition of raising money through a day of soapy water and sweat equity is drying up, thanks to tightened regulations under new state stormwater permits rolling out across the region that could affect the activity elsewhere.

West Coast states that suffer water shortages or have strong environmental lobbies have long focused public education and enforcement efforts on the effects of carwashes. But it’s a newer issue in the Washington area as environmental groups and municipalities aim to cut down on pollution that reaches the Chesapeake Bay.

Cathy Lin, who as energy manager for Arlington schools wrote the letter to parents, said that schools officials view the new permit and the restriction on carwashes as an opportunity for students to learn about environmental protection and sustainability.

In the letter, she highlighted alternative fundraiser ideas that students at Washington-Lee High School are pursuing to replace carwashes, including selling reusable water bottles or working with a commercial carwash that has cleaner wash-water disposal methods.

Somehow, I doubt selling reusable water bottles is likely to raise the kinds of funds that big, visible car washes will. And then there are the lessons about business, hard work, and marketing that are lost. As a pastor interviewed noted, young people see the results of their labor right away and have fun in the process. It spurs entrepreneurship in a way that a class might not and it makes young people active participants in their fundraising efforts versus just asking mom and dad.

There’s a movement afoot driven by environmentalists to incite fear and cause overly cautious lawmakers causing to outlaw fairly innocuous behavior. As they admit one or two carwashes aren’t harmful but it’s the cumulative effect of “thousands and thousands” of carwashes that are harmful. Interestingly, the environmental advocates produce no data to support their claim. Can they prove that that enough charity car washes occur in a given summer to cause substantial damage to the eco-system?

Furthermore, outlawing fundraising car washes doesn’t mean residents will be deterred from washing their cars, they will just wash them at home or get them washed elsewhere.

Officials think they are teaching the public a lesson in environmentalism. The real lesson learned is how free enterprise is stifled by greater (nonsensical) government regulations.

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