Saturday, August 05, 2017

Why Shifting Regulatory Power to the States Won't Improve the Environment - by Michael A. Livermore, University of Virginia

To comply with air pollution laws, midwest energy companies built tall smokestacks to displace pollutants. This one at Indiana’s Rockport Generating Station is 1,038 feet high, just 25 feet shorter than the Eiffel Tower. (Credit: Don Sniegowski, CC BY-NC-SA) Click to Enlarge.
President Trump and his appointees, particularly Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, have made federalism a theme of their efforts to scale back environmental regulation.  They argue that the federal government has become too intrusive and that states should be returned to a position of “regulatory primacy” on environmental matters.

“We have to let the states compete to see who has the best solutions.  They know the best how to spend their dollars and how to take care of the people within each state,” Trump said in a speech to the National Governors Association last February.

Some liberal-leaning states have responded by adopting more aggressive regulations. California has positioned itself as a leader in the fight to curb climate change.  New York is restructuring its electricity market to facilitate clean energy.  And Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, has ordered state environmental regulators to design a rule to cap carbon emissions from power plants.

State experimentation may be the only way to break the gridlock on environmental issues that now overwhelms our national political institutions.  However, without a broad mandate from the federal government to address urgent environmental problems, few red and purple states will follow California’s lead.  In my view, giving too much power to the states will likely result in many states doing less, not more.

What’s So Great About the States?
Politicians are happy to praise states’ rights, but they rarely say much about what federalism is supposed to accomplish.  Granting more power to the states should not be an end unto itself.  Rather, it’s a way to promote goals such as political responsiveness, experimentation, and policy diversity.

Many U.S. environmental laws include roles for states and the federal government to work cooperatively to achieve shared objectives.  Often, this involves the federal government setting strict goals, with states taking the lead on implementation and enforcement.  This careful balance of federal and state power has been implemented by Republican and Democratic administrations alike.

In recent years scholars have expanded on Justice Brandeis’ famous “laboratories of democracy” model of federalism with the notion of “democratic experimentation.”  Brandeis’ core insight, updated for contemporary society, is that decentralization lets state and local governments experiment with different policies to generate information about what works and what doesn’t.  Other states and the national government can use those insights to generate better policy outcomes.

Read more at Why Shifting Regulatory Power to the States Won't Improve the Environment

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