Tuesday, May 10, 2005

States' Rights

A heartening new report says that efforts by U.S. states to clean up bioaccumulative pollutants are meeting the global standards mandated by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

I'm not surprised. The states are hotbeds of anti-pollution activity these days. It's easy to imagine them leapfrogging BushCo in order to meet world standards, not least because the Convention has been ratified by pretty much all of our major trading partners.

California is always accused of wild-eyed liberalism on environmental issues, but its leadership on this issue has far more to do with the fact that it's the world's sixth-largest economy. Backwater states that are sluggish about exporting anything but apocalyptic pseudochristianity can afford to have Limbaugh-esque tantrums about "socialism," or the sovereignty questions allegedly raised by new EU programs like REACH. California can't. The EU is now a bigger market than the United States; staying competitive by meeting foreign environmental standards, while reducing the need for regulation at home through re-engineering, would be a pretty fair example of a win-win situation for any business, and it's accordingly a win-win situation for California.

California plays the role states are supposed to play under federalism; it's a laboratory for working out new policies and new ideas. Like all states, its actions on the environment are allowed by the basic federalist principle that says the government can't set regulatory ceilings on states; it can only set a regulatory baseline, which each state is legally free to exceed.

The infallible GOP demigod Ronald Reagan had some strong opinions on this (somone told me he died recently...anyone know if that's true?). In Executive Order 12612, Reagan said:

The nature of our constitutional system encourages a healthy diversity in the public policies adopted by the people of the several States according to their own conditions, needs, and desires. In the search for enlightened public policy, individual States and communities are free to experiment with a variety of approaches to public issues.
Sounds good to me.

Now, here's William McDonough, to explain how to exceed federal regulatory standards, end pollution, and get rich doing it.
Our idea is to make production so clean, there's nothing bad left to regulate. This is extremely interesting to people of all political persuasions — those who love the environment and those who want commerce free of regulation....[At the Rohner textile plant in Switzerland] we designed a fabric safe enough to eat. The manufacturing process uses no mutagens, carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, heavy-metal contaminants or chemicals that cause ozone depletion, allergies, skin desensitization or plant and fish toxicity. We screened 8,000 commonly used chemicals and ended up with 38. When inspectors measured the effluent water, they thought their instruments were broken. The water was as clean as Swiss drinking water. A garden club started using the waste trimmings as mulch. Workers no longer had to wear protective clothing. And it eliminated regulatory paperwork, so they've reduced the cost of production by 20 percent. Why spend money on paperwork, when you can spend it delivering service or paying your workers a living wage?
I like McDonough, because his accomplishments make it clear that BushCo and its creatures stand in the way of progress. When you argue over the allowable dose of methyl ethyl ketone, or about how stringently lindane should be regulated, you get caught in an action/reaction loop involving debates over technical data that the public generally can't follow.

But anyone can see the appeal of inventing interesting new ways of doing things, and everyone likes the idea of Neat New Stuff. Environmentalism no longer needs to be merely proscriptive; it can solve problems, save businesses money, reduce regulation, and increase profits. It's important for people to understand that BushCo is poisoning them, but it's also important for them to understand that BushCo comprises a gaggle of stolid, unimaginative, ossified dead-enders who are standing in the way of progress. Any state that doesn't want to lose its ability to innovate, prosper, and attract new residents must insist on its right to go over BushCo's head on environmental issues.


Speechless said...

I love this statement:
BushCo comprises a gaggle of stolid, unimaginative, ossified dead-enders who are standing in the way of progress
So well put. Thank you.

(BTW, Probably not your intention, but this post seems to address some of the questions I was throwing at you in the coments on your last one.)

I've been impressed in that in Pennsylvania our governor, Ed Rendell-- with a minimal of idealogy and wuite a starry eyed gaga look over all things which promise to bring in money-- has been pushing harder for the Pennsylvania Growing Greener Initiative. As I understand it, it's largely concerned with developing new technologies to make recycling and green technology more lucrative for the state. The legislative team working on it hardly ever utter and earth friendly language, but they're really into the idea of creating "win/win strategies" etc. I guess if Capitalism and Earth Friendly technology can coexist, I'll have more respect for capitalism. We'll see...

roger said...

what a radical idea. don't use dangerous stuff in manufacturing. i like the reduced cost of paperwork for not having to deal with reporting bad chemicals. extra paperwork is an interesting way to deal with "externals" but only as far as costing business. it is no way to put the money where it belongs for dealing with pollution.

WHT said...

Backwater states that are sluggish about exporting anything but apocalyptic pseudochristianity can afford to have Limbaugh-esque tantrums about "socialism,"

That's the line I love.