Wednesday, January 03, 2018

A Tale of Two Americas — States Turn to Courts to Curb Rampant Partisanship

US constitution (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
States like California and New York are mad as hell and they say they aren’t going to take it any more.  What are they mad at?  The federal government, which they feel is oppressing their citizens by failing to protect them from known health risks and by enacting tax laws that are discriminatory.  As 2017 drew to a close, the attorneys general of California and New York filed suits in federal court that seek to block the new so-call tax reform act from taking effect and force the federal government to enforce methane capture rules put in place by the Obama administration.  Those legal challenges could put the “separation of powers” provisions of the US Constitution to the test.

The Methane Follies
Methane, which is the primary component of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas that traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere.  Federal data shows that 462 billion cubic feet of natural gas escaped from wells in the United States between 2009 and 2016.  That’s enough to meet the needs of 6.2 million households, according to the San Francisco Gate.

In July a federal appeals court ruled Scott Pruitt and the EPA had no legal authority to delay the methane abatement rules put in place by the Obama administration.  But now the federal government is attempting to do through the back door what it could not do through the front.  The Bureau of Land Management, which has jurisdiction over wells on federal lands, has announced it wants to delay implementation of the Obama rules for a year while it “studies” the issue.

That’s illegal, says California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.  In his announcement of the lawsuit, Becerra told the press that the BLM “is effectively threatening the health of our families and our environment.  The California Department of Justice won’t stand by and subscribe to this blatant violation of our laws.”

The position of the administration pits people against profits.  The natural gas industry says the Obama policy is an example of the burdensome, job-killing regulations Republicans constantly rail against.  It claims it is doing all it can to limit methane emissions, even though it is spending millions to fight the new rules.  The fallacy in their argument is that people are dying and the planet is warming due to its actions, but the current distortions in the capitalist model impose no financial penalty for such consequences.  In essence the industry wants to be free to maximize its profits while saddling society with the costs of any damage it does.  It’s a classic case of “Heads we win, tails you lose.”

Targeted Vindictiveness As Tax Policy
The so-called tax reform act that was passed just prior to the end of 2017 appears to be little more than political payback designed to punish those considered “enemies” by Republicans.  The new law will have an outsized impact on states with large urban populations like New York and California, and that may violate the equal protection provisions of the Constitution.  Oddly enough, those states already contribute more in taxes to the federal government than they get back in benefits.  If for any reason those payments were to cease, Republicans would find they have no money left to reward their supporters in red states.
The governors of New York and California have noticed the manifest unfairness of the new tax law and have threatened to sue the federal government to prevent the law from being implemented.  Their biggest concern is the provision that caps the deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000.

“This tax provision hits the blue states by eliminating the state and local tax deductibility and uses that money to finance the tax cut in the red states,” says New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  He called it a form of “pillaging” and added, “You want to hurt New York?  You want to hurt California?  They’re the economic engines.”  California Governor Jerry Brown and New Jersey Governor-Elect Phil Murphy have also indicated an intention to sue in order to protect the citizens of their own states.

Read more at A Tale of Two Americas — States Turn to Courts to Curb Rampant Partisanship

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