Thursday, December 20, 2007

A simple Constitutional issue made murky by EPA

NYT reports that the EPA is now denying the right of states to set more stringent automobile emissions standards now that the new federal emissions standards were passed.


The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday denied California and 16 other states the right to set their own standards for carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles.

The E.P.A. administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, said the proposed California rules were pre-empted by federal authority and made moot by the energy bill signed into law by President Bush on Wednesday. Mr. Johnson said California had failed to make a compelling case that it needed authority to write its own standards for greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks to help curb global warming.

The decision immediately provoked a heated debate over its scientific basis and whether political pressure was applied by the automobile industry to help it escape the proposed California regulations. Officials from the states and numerous environmental groups vowed to sue to overturn the edict.

In an evening conference call with reporters, Mr. Johnson defended his agency’s decision.

“The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules,” he said. “I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone.”

What we have here is, at the minimum, a desire for federal uniformity of a technological standard affecting local economies and health, placed against the right of states to democratically decide on stricter, more applicable standards for themselves. At the worst, we have a government that has corrupted a federal agency to pander to the interests of an industry. Believe what you will, but at the very least, this is a red flag for undermining the relationship between states and the federal government.

And science is not a factor in this decision:

Mr. Johnson, the E.P.A. administrator, cited federal law, not science, as the underpinning of his decision. “Climate change affects everyone regardless of where greenhouse gases occur, so California is not exclusive,” he said.

The Governator isn't going to take this abuse of federal power sitting down:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California said the states would go to federal court to reverse the E.P.A. decision.

“It is disappointing that the federal government is standing in our way and ignoring the will of tens of millions of people across the nation,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said. “We will continue to fight this battle.”

He added, “California sued to compel the agency to act on our waiver, and now we will sue to overturn today’s decision and allow Californians to protect our environment.”

Twelve other states — New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — had proposed standards like California’s, and the governors of Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Utah said they would do the same.

Cars do not have rights. Car manufacturers do not have an inherent right to economic protectionism. No fundamental human rights are being violated. This is a capitalist society: consumer demand spurs the market. And in California, Washington, and other states, the consumers have spoken; they want cars with higher emission standards, and it is not the place of car manufacturers, the EPA, or George Bush to question their democratic voices when they wish to exceed the (embarrassingly) bare minimum standards established by the federal government.

While more related to environmental policy than to bioethics, this breach of Constitutionally established precedent allowing states to choose more specific and strict regulation than that presented by the federal government will have direct impacts on bioethical policy. We have already seen the federal government overriding democratically established legalization of physician-assisted dying in Oregon state, and I am certain that more issues will be affected as bioethical issues become more and more visible in society. Some will be overridden on moral claims and are therefore potentially open to discussion. But as ethicists, we cannot stand for a breach of Constitutionality based on industry concerns with absolutely no breach of rights.

Stand by for a clash at the Supreme Court, on an issue that a high school civics student should be able to answer:

AMENDMENT X The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

higher standards are one thing, controlling society is another. I don't believe you can effect "real" change by enacting more laws and "standards"

The emissions testing does NOTHING to solve global warming. Good try, but we are failing. The only way to change the consumer is to give them incentive to change. The emissions test do not fix anything. The just put a larger burden on the tax payer. I believe each one of us needs to do our part to help curve warming, but these test do NOTHING. The standards start with manufacturers. The individuals who drive these older cars, are keeping them from ending up in a land fill. Stop punishing the citizens of this country with more standards and start doing something about it.