An impending battle between state lawmakers in California and the U.S. Congress over the state’s tough vehicle emission standards illustrates the absurdity of one-size-fits all policies emanating from D.C.

Over the past 40 years, the fed granted California waivers under the Clean Air Act, allowing the state to impose tougher emission standards than those mandated for the rest of the nation – kind of a state right by federal fiat.

A Republican backed House bill would strip the EPA’s authority to grant the waiver. The Energy Tax Prevention Act seeks to block the Obama administration from regulating greenhouse gases and create what some lawmakers view as a “backdoor” cap-and-trade program. Supporters of HR910 want to take away California’s ability to impose stricter emission standards because the state represents about one-tenth of the U.S. new car market and its standards impact the auto industry as a whole.

This raises an important question: why should California lawmakers have to beg the fed to allow them to implement policies they deem in the best interest of their constituents?

“The Constitution does not grant the federal government authority to regulate emissions or air quality. These are issues rightly left to each state,” Tenth Amendment Center communications director Mike Maharrey said. “California has unique air quality issues and a long history of pollution problems. It only makes sense that they would want to regulate vehicle emissions to a greater degree than folks out in Wyoming. And that should be their prerogative.”

With the fed granting California waivers, the tough standards were never an issue, and the Golden State was free to pursue its environmental agenda. But what D.C. giveth, D.C. can taketh away.

Many California lawmakers and bureaucrats oppose the move, arguing that stripping the EPA’s waiver power and eliminating California’s ability to impose its tougher standards would gut the 2006 California climate change law signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) released a detailed analysis of the bill saying it would, “repeal California’s ability to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles.”

“This really is a shocking attack on states’ rights and on public health,” Stanley Young, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Young is right. But California conceded its state rights 40 years ago when it begged the fed to grant it a waiver, tactically acknowledging that all power flows from D.C.

The issue creates quite the conundrum. On the one side, conservatives, who typically position themselves as advocates of smaller government and states’ rights, place themselves in the position of utilizing big government power to prevent a state from implementing environmental regulations as it sees fit. On the other side of the political aisle, progressives are suddenly recognizing the virtues of state sovereignty.

Which goes to show, politicians on both sides of the aisle generally lack principle, gladly wielding centralized power to get their way, but screaming “Tenth Amendment” when it’s convenient.

For years, progressives  lobbied for tough federal policies regulating air, water and other environmental factors across the U.S. With the failure of the Senate to join the House in passing cap-and-trade legislation to limit CO2 emissions, progressives have changed tactics, pushing their agenda through the EPA.

Conservatives fight regulations, arguing that they impose unacceptable economic consequences and that the entire CO2/climate change link rests on faulty science.

Opponents of tougher federal regulations often utilize “states’ rights” as a weapon to battle the EPA and federal environmental policy. But the Republican move to strip the EPA waiver  indicates that they are more than happy to wield overreaching federal power to impose its will on states.

Now in an amusingly ironic twist, those on the left beat the states’ rights drum.

The solution lies in following the Constitution every issue, every time, no exceptions, no excuses.

In the bigger picture, the conservatives are right. The EPA, Congress, the president, the Supreme Court – no entity at the federal level – has any constitutionally granted power to oversee environmental policy. But that means they also must leave Californians free to pursue their own policy, even if it happens to run counter to Republican politics.

In other words, each state should decide for itself the weight it places on environmental science and public safety, balanced with its own economic interests.

“Each state is different. California has different priorities and issues to contend with than we do here in Kentucky. If Californians believe the benefits of strict environmental regulations outweigh the economic cost, who is some Congressman from New Jersey to tell them otherwise?” Maharrey said. “Here in Kentucky, this is coal country. We have vastly different priorities, and quite frankly very different environmental dynamics. A California solution isn’t going to fly here, and Henry Waxman shouldn’t have any say in the way we handle our clean water and clean air policies.”

The beauty of the system the framers created lies in its diversity. If California environmental policies succeed, other states will naturally take them up. We all love the smell of success. But if they fail miserably, or wreck the state’s economy, other states will avoid them and California can abandon them without harming the rest of the country. If Texans don’t like their state’s approach, they remain free to move to a state with policies more to their liking. Wildly different approaches can see the light of day. Who knows, in some cases, two vastly different policies could BOTH yield positive results.

But with the centralized, D.C. directed solutions, the entire U.S. remains stuck with mandates handed down and enforced by a few self-proclaimed experts, with no room for experimentation, no allowance for the dynamics existing in vastly different areas of the nation and no escape from ill-conceived policies driven by self-serving political motivation.

In fact, one-size-fits all seldom fits anyone.

The 10th Amendment

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



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