- The View From Arizona
- The View from Georgia
Polluting interest groups heavily funded and influenced the last
Congress, but found their anti-environmental agenda unpopular with
voters. Now, a subtler approach is on deck. "Devolution" -- a key
concept in the Contract With America -- is the buzzword for granting
states the authority to enforce federal laws. When it comes to the
environment, it doesn't work.
While industries may find it hard to convince voters that lower health
and safety standards are good for them, they find a ready ear with
local politicians. They say, "Keep decisionmaking at the local level,"
or, "Why have the federal government interfering in our business?" or,
"We know what works here."
What they really mean is it's easier to confuse and deceive local
residents about the toxic standards they are exposed to when there are
no baseline national standards to go by. But a set of lungs in Alabama
is just as susceptible to airborne toxins as one in Alaska.
Meanwhile, many of these same polluting industries receive government
subsidies and exemptions from labor, public right-to-know and other
regulatory programs. The result is that American taxpayers are funding
bureaucracies that are supposed to represent their interests but are
currently being coerced into glitzy-sounding "partnerships" meant to
lower environmental and public health standards.
Club members and activists -- indeed, all Americans -- should be aware of
these efforts to allow the undermining of environmental health and
safety standards in the name of efficiency and local control. We do not
intend to let the residents of our states remain ignorant of this
destructive, irresponsible trend.
-- Raena Honan
Arizona Chapter Legislative Director
Forty years ago in the South, "states' rights" were code words for
massive resistance to federal civil-rights and voting-rights laws, and
to school desegregation. "States' rights" was Alabama Gov. George
Wallace's motto as he railed against Washington and perfected the
politics of rage and hatred that is so prevalent today.
Now there are new code words such as "devolution" and "performance
partnership." Under these relatively benign-sounding doctrines, the
great majority of U.S. environmental laws have been delegated to state
environmental agencies for implementation.
Yet federal environmental law constitutes minimum protection; states
are able to pass stronger laws if they deem it necessary. By the same
reasoning, local communities should retain the power to provide even
more protection for their citizens. But this important principle is
under attack as state legislatures pass "no more stringent than federal
standards" legislation. The hypocritical rhetoric of local control
versus the least restrictive standards set by the federal government
clearly exposes the agenda of polluting industries at the state and
Unfortunately, state agencies have often lacked the political will to
enforce delegated environmental laws during the past two years. The
problem of lax enforcement has reached crisis proportions as state
after state has slashed environmental spending and passed takings and
audit privilege bills.
Americans' environmental rights, such as clean air and water, should
not depend upon which state they happen to live in. Should the states
be trusted to take over greater responsibility for environmental
protection? The record says absolutely not. States' rights is a loser,
just as it was at Gettysburg in 1863.
- Mark Woodall
Georgia Chapter Legislative Chair
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