The Rise of Modern Environmental Federalism


Too often, the realm of environmental policy has gone down unforgiving roads. In terms of regulating industry being one of those many roads, the devil in the details become exposed. At this point, a Pandora’s box of nonsensical regulation envelopes the free marketplace with unrealistic standards that limit and restrict growth for an economy.

Upon the transition of power, visa vi the transition of an Obama White House to a Trump White House, the American Environmental Protection Agency had nearly unchecked power.

Now, as we see the rise of individuals like Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke to lead the nation’s environmental agencies, a shimmer of hope, through the guise of a resurging call for environmental federalism is on the horizon.

Pruitt, the former Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma, in particular, is a man that has built his career on fighting against unconstitutional federal overreach. He knows first hand the horrors of the central government asserting its misguided and misinformed agendas on the state government, directly costing taxpayers a hefty price tag for compliance.

Zinke, the now-former GOP Congressman from Montana, received a Senate nod to lead the United States Interior Department with broad bipartisan support. He now takes the reins of an agency that has been shrouded in constant controversy and corruption. One of the most notable and recent examples of this is the case where the Interior Department’s Inspector General Office investigated and charged a senior official of the Bureau of Land Managment for abusing his power and obtaining unsanctioned police escort from agency law enforcement officials all the way to obtaining free tickets to the Burning Man music festival in 2015.

Sadly, a bloated and corrupt bureaucracy that seeks to make decisions on behalf of the free market is what Pruitt and Zinke inherit as the nation’s leading environmental policy officials.

With this and the amazing work that both these men seek to do, a Trump environmental policy will look very state-oriented and will feature much-needed deregulation.

Considering the fact that over the past decade the states have lost numerous rights regarding their abilities to take the lead on dictating environmental policy (i.e. climate change response, public land ownership, etc.) that best fits their state.

Ever since policy making and regulation of state environmental policy has all been, almost entirely, vested with the national authority of the federal government, the negatives outweigh the benefits when in determining if such moves were viable.

According to an essay published by the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), a case for devolving policy making back to the states is compelling, to say the least.

PERC argues that “For most natural resource and environmental problems, devolution is an alternative that can reduce costs and align results with the demands of citizens.”

Taking such words into my realm of thought, I translate the PERC argument to be citizen-focused while granting more local and state control over certain policy making commitments when it comes to natural resources and the environment. Based on the wide-ranging effects environmental rule-making has on the many facets of the socio-economic makeup of the country, the case for decentralizing power needs to begin at the national level, in accordance with the wishes of the states and localities.

For example, protecting species and wide ranges of land can be entrusted to non-commercial, non-market organizations seeking to maintain such protections. Other realms of consideration can be protecting mineral rights as private property rights, based on the literal definition of the Consitution.

In the end, though, the main mission to see a useful result of environmental federalist rhetoric should be focused on the reaffirmation of property rights for agricultural producers through the divestment of federally protected lands to the states to decide their uses. A devolution of such national power will also allow the states and localities to have the final say on where the boundaries between the public good and the private rights meet. Rather than someone in Washington D.C. who may have never worked on a farm on the Eastern Plains of Colorado making the rules, a more localized understanding can prevail.

The government should not be in the business of unlawfully and/or corruptly taking over private land either. A strong stance on environmental federalism will also affirm the private ownership of property as the most important level of decentralization and devolution. With the appropriate placement of the private sector in this relationship, the industry can properly protect the environment while giving the government the ability to govern components of the policy that actually apply (i.e. interstate regulation of pesticides).

This mentality needs to be readopted up the food chain and the new Administration can be the jumping off point to freer markets and empowered state sovereignty.

Michael McGrady is the executive director of McGrady Policy Research. His work has been featured, republished and/or cited by media outlets like The Wall Street Journal, The Denver Post, The New York Post, The Daily Caller, Human Events, The Hill, and many others.

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