James M. Knott Sr.

Heritage member James M. Knott, Sr. started a small business—and had to face down regulators.

No one knows better than James Knott, Sr. the dangers and frustrations overzealous regulatory agencies impose on small business owners. In fact, among the issues that concern him most is our “lack of control over bureaucrats.”

And no wonder: Knott, a Heritage Foundation member since 1999, has faced challenges from both OSHA and the EPA at Riverdale Mills Corporation, where he serves as president. However, having “experienced attempted brutality by bureaucrats” has only strengthened his conservative beliefs.

Knott represents many Americans who have worked hard as entrepreneurs. Ever since his honorable discharge in 1956 from the United States Army as a first lieutenant, he has been self-employed. Riverdale Mills provides products used for lobster traps, erosion control, poultry farm flooring and security fencing.

But in 1997, bureaucrats in Washington butted in.

When the EPA raided his business that year, Knott fought back. Facing a $1.5 million dollar fine and up to six years in prison for alleged environmental pollution at Riverdale, he stood up to the agency. They “threatened me . . . with falsified evidence,” Knott says. “I proved it in court.”

Knott refused to cow to their bullying: “They offered me five or six hundred thousand dollars if I would not expose them.” Instead, his case received national attention, airing on 60 Minutes.

He faced down a later challenge from OSHA, the agency charged with enforcing workplace safety rules.

There is a place for regulations, Knott acknowledges. “If someone is, in fact, polluting the environment illegally or subjecting employees to hazardous working conditions, then they ought to face the music,” he says.

But when small business owners are subjected to excessive regulation, he adds, they are unable to use “their limited resources on capital investment, product development, job creation and worker training.”

Perhaps appropriately, Knott and his business have received awards for excellence in both areas government regulators have challenged. In 1999, he received the Massachusetts Governor’s Award for Toxics Use Reduction, and in 2002 Riverdale Mills received an Industrial Award of Merit from the National Safety Council’s Central Massachusetts chapter.

Today, Knott devotes his time and energy to the conservative cause. He knows firsthand the importance of issues like regulatory reform and uses Heritage resources to inform others. “I study [Heritage reports] and forward them on to dozens of friends, relatives, and acquaintances,” he says.

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