Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Green Federalism and The Role of Local Government in Environmental Regulation

Since the end of the Clinton administration, environmental regulation in the United States has largely been the domain of the states and local governments. This eventuality is somewhat counter-intuitive. Environmental damage has traditionally been a prime candidate for federal regulation because of its cross-border effects. The pollution which is generated in Mississippi will blow into Alabama, the water which is used in Colorado is unavailable in California. The first federal regulation of the environment in the 1970s and 1980s was basically established on this premise.

However, the lack of federal action on global warming s has created a well-spring of creative legal experimentation with local control of cross-border problems. For example, California is proposing to triple its greenhouse gas regulations over the next few years, proposing regulations requiring trucks and trailers to be fitted with devices to reduce aerodynamic drag, setting standards to reduce perfluorocarbon emissions in the semiconductor industry and having workers at tuneup and oil-change shops check tires for proper inflation as part of the service. Several states have developed anti-sprawl initiatives, including urban growth boundaries, open space preservation requirements and tranditonal neighborhood development zoning plans. SQUARING THE CIRCLE ON SPRAWL: WHAT MORE CAN WE DO? PROGRESS TOWARD SUSTAINABLE LAND USE IN THE STATESNAME, Patricia E. Salkin, 16 Widener L.J. 787 (2007). Most significant may be the regional and even international accords which are developing, including the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast--http://www.rggi.org/-- and the Western Climate Initative--http://www.westernclimateinitiative.org/Index.cfm.

But the ultimate question remains--can a non-federal patchwork of environmental regulations effectively combat global warming? I think not. There will be states and regions that lag behind, failing to regulate pollutants. Companies interested in avoiding the regulations will relocate to those areas with fewer regulations. The federal government maintains its ability to preempt any state or regional regulations, so that the federal government can clip the wings of any local or regional regulatory scheme.

However, state and local action may be responsible for shifting the federal government towards further regulation, and providing a pre-tested set of initatives which could be scaled up to the national level under new leadership.

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