FORT FRANCIS, Ontario — How is it that a society with the engineering know how to put a man on the moon 50 years ago can’t make a decent gasoline can today?
Don’t blame the engineers. Blame government bureaucrats and trial lawyers.
Today’s gas cans have become hard to use contraptions with springs that snap the lid shut even when you’re trying to fill or empty the container.
And they lack vents that actually work well.
Everyone knows if you want a container to empty well, it needs to be vented.
That’s why you punch two holes in the lid of a can of condensed milk or tomato juice before you pour.
But here in the USA we have gas cans that flow about as well as a 75-year-old man with a prostate the size of a softball.
Earlier this month, I found myself in the market for a new gas can after the spring on one I keep in the back of my pickup snapped, rendering it useless.
I looked at my wife and said, “When we vacation in Canada, we’re buying our gas cans there.”
Americans travel across our northern border to buy a variety of things not available in the U.S.: Cuban cigars, five-gallon toilet tanks and, yes, gas cans that actually work.
I bought two from a Canadian Tire store just across the border from International Falls, Minn. And they are the same design that was available in American hardware stores in the 1990s.
So how did the world’s largest economy become so inept that it can no longer produce a decent gas can?
Well, back in 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency banned the sale of gas cans that actually work well. It seems the federal bureaucrats were wringing their hands over a whiff of gas vapors escaping into the atmosphere from a vent while the gasoline is being poured.
So, vented gas cans were outlawed.
Instead, we just have to worry about a pint or two of gasoline spilling into the environment. It’s rare, indeed, when I manage to fill my lawnmower or chainsaw without spilling something when using the new government-approved gas cans.
These new cans are a sloshing, heaving mess, belching gasoline and leaking it from the complex yet flimsy spouts that easily break.
But hey, it’s not just the bureaucrats that have brought the demise of useful gas cans. Trial lawyers have litigated the industry to death.
In fact, back in 2011, Blitz USA, then the nation’s largest gas can-maker went out of business after spending $30 million defending itself in court.
How often do you see a company such as Blitz, with 75 percent of the domestic market, shut its doors? It wasn’t the vagaries of the marketplace that put the firm out of business, but our legal system.
Some products can never be perfectly safe, particularly when people don’t use them wisely.
According to The Wall Street Journal, most of the lawsuits came from folks who tried to pour gasoline onto fires and were burned.
Pouring gasoline onto a fire? It seems commonsense isn’t a flower growing in everyone’s garden.
When I last wrote on this issue six years ago, trial lawyers contacted me claiming I didn’t care if people got burned. Of course, I do.
But I also care about the 117 factory workers in Oklahoma who lost their jobs when their gasoline can plant shut down. And I care about the consumers stuck with having to buy harder-to-use, more-expensive products.
I was thinking about that as I walked down the aisle of Canadian Tire; I couldn’t help but notice that the store was selling 1-gallon gas cans, even though Canadian gas pumps dispense fuel in liters.
It’s not hard to figure out who those gas cans are being marketed to.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area.