Why the Federal Government, Not States, Should Regulate the Environment

Why shouldn’t states be able to control their own environmental standards? Every state has a different topography and should be able to tailor laws to its specific needs, right?

The fight between state-versus-federal rights is never-ending. The 10th amendment bestows great power upon the states to hopefully prevent the federal government from gaining excessive power. All powers not specifically dedicated to the federal government belong to the states. Not surprisingly, when the government proposes nationwide laws, the states-versus-federal problem arises and a fight begins. Of course, I promote states’ rights; I do not want an all-powerful central government. But, in certain cases, a national law is necessary. Environmental policy is one of these cases.

While specially targeted laws would greatly benefit some states, other states would suffer from insufficient rules; no authority would supervise the states to make sure the laws were strict enough in each. Furthermore, many environmental issues travel across state borders. For example, mercury emissions pass over many states. Pollution from a factory in Philadelphia travels easily, infecting nearby states. Additionally, waterways do not end at state lines. Rivers, lakes, and streams flow from state to state, allowing industry-polluted water from the Rio Grande to infect not only Colorado, but also New Mexico and Texas. If one state falters on strong laws, all other states will suffer.

In a recent case of nation-versus-state, building roads through national forests has caused an argument in Colorado. At the urging of President George W. Bush, Colorado and Idaho created their own rules for road creation in forests. This decision, allowing the states to tailor laws specific to their situations, was in direct contradiction to Clinton’s “roadless rule,” which limited opportunities to build roads in national forests in the West. State environment managers claim that the state-level rules will be just as strict, but Colorado needs to consider jobs and industries since the dip in the economy, and the specific rules would address such issues. Thus, conservationists argue that Colorado will actually receive the least amount of protection, allowing America’s treasured national forests to be destroyed. Unfortunately, leaving rule-making to the states will harm the planet when states refuse to make environmental protection a priority. If people could relinquish states’ rights, our habitat would reap the benefits — as would the inhabitants themselves.

This hesitation and outright fight against national laws comes from not only a lack of knowledge about environmental issues, but also a lack of interest in learning about them. People are stubborn and do not want to be told that they are damaging the planet every day; and conditions are only getting worse.

Environmental issues not only have to stand up to the state versus federal argument, they also have to combat a large portion of America that wants to ignore them completely. In fact, the Tea Party has joined a campaign to spread the message that the United Nations’ (UN) attempts to conserve energy and preserve open space are actually part of a conspiracy to “deny property rights and herd citizens towards cities.” Members of the movement reject any evidence of global climate change and recoil at the idea of adjusting their lifestyles to make the planet healthier. Groups like this are an additional reason for why environmental laws must be national. On a state level, groups like the Tea Party may be strong enough to deter strict laws — or any laws for that matter — concerning the environment. On a national level, they would have less of an impact, making it easier to generate appropriate legislation.

Of course, environmental legislation will never be a simple task. State or national level, there will be a battle. However, the most effective legislation will come in the form of a national law, subjecting every state to the same regulations, ensuring that they all comply with a healthy standard that will help protect our planet.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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