Clearing the Air

One of the issues likely to play a critical role in this month’s hearings on Supreme Court nominee John Roberts will be unpacking his views on federalism. In the past, as both lawyer and judge, Roberts has often favored states’ rights over national regulatory policy. That is in line with the Bush administration’s approach to a variety of issues, especially the environment. At times, administration policy has bordered on abdicating federal oversight of environmental concerns in favor of the market’s purported self-correcting mechanisms.

While there are proven benefits in some market-inspired approaches to limiting environmental pollution (acid rain, for example, has diminished in the Northeastern United States, thanks in part to emissions-trading schemes introduced under the first President Bush), there remains an important role for federal oversight in goading individuals, businesses, and governing bodies “to do the right thing” when it comes to the health of the planet. After all, someone must have thought those emissions weren’t so good for the forests, lakes, and people. The market didn’t come up with the idea on its own.

In the absence of presidential leadership on the environment in the past five years, a series of policy “mutations” has begun to emerge. They are taking place on the municipal, state, and even business levels. GE, for example, recently agreed to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 1...

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