Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 23, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

STATES' RIGHTS....Dianne Feinstein has managed to prevent Congress from gutting California's efforts to reduce smog:

The agreement between Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) ensures that California, with its distinctive smog problem, would still have a special exemption under the federal Clean Air Act to impose tougher rules for the small gasoline engines sold in the state. It would bar other states from enacting stricter regulations than the federal government, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would be required to draft a federal anti-pollution rule for the engines that would apply to the other states.

I'm not really sure what the compromise here was, since as far as I know the EPA is already drafting federal rules for small gasoline engines and other states are already barred from enacting their own. Only California has an exemption from the Clean Air Act.

Obviously there's something I'm missing here, but in any case I never really understood the problem. The ostensible reason that Briggs & Stratton (and thus Kit Bond) opposed the California rules was a fear that other states might then do the same. But why would they? Why would other states go to the time and trouble of enacting troublesome restrictions like these unless they have smog problems like California's which they don't?

It's a mystery, but it's also a naked and unprincipled assault on federalism, no matter what Bond says:

Asked Saturday on Capitol Hill if his efforts don't go against his support for states' rights, Bond said, "It's not a question of states' rights. It's a question of whether the federal government [enacts] a federal rule that takes into account the concerns of the entire nation or whether we get held hostage by a bunch of a bureaucrats in Sacramento."

Putting aside his Gingrich-esque "bunch of bureaucrats" rhetoric, Bond is simply saying that the feds should enact rules, not the states. Why? Because if one state enacts a rule, other states might decide to follow suit if the rule seems to be working well.

And that would be bad because....?

UPDATE: In comments, Geoffrey Green clears up what the compromise was. Although only California has an exemption from the Clean Air Act, apparently other states are allowed to adopt either the federal rules or the California rule. The compromise bill prevents them from adopting California's rule in this case.

Kevin Drum 10:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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