CPR's Nina Mendelson on President Obama and the California Waiver

Matthew Freeman

Jan. 27, 2009

CPR Member Scholar Nina Mendelson has a piece in today's New York Times "Room for Debate" online feature on California's Clean Air Act waiver request.  She says President Obama's direction to EPA that it reconsider its previous denial of the waiver (issued during the Bush Administration) "reaffirms the critical role of states as environmental leaders, something lost sight of in the previous administration."


She continues:

Permitting states to develop new approaches is not just about finding local solutions for local problems that might escape the notice of federal regulators. State governments also can serve as “laboratories of democracy,” in Justice Brandeis’s words, devising and testing new ideas to address societal problems. This is one reason why Congress allowed California to develop its own automotive pollution standards, a power California has had for decades.

This all may sound abstract, but the effects are concrete. States have been leaders, spurring change in areas ranging from regulating predatory lending to addressing mercury pollution from power plants.


California’s greenhouse gas auto standards are similarly likely to make a concrete difference, not just a symbolic one. Admittedly, limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars driven in Los Angeles can take California only so far in saving the state from wildfires, droughts and coastal flooding. But California’s leadership will likely trigger change elsewhere. That will generate broader effects both inside and outside the state.


Most immediately, so many states have already chosen to adopt California’s standards that, if the E.P.A. approves them, half the U.S. market for new cars would be governed by these standards. And of course, greenhouse gases from cars and trucks must be addressed as part of any comprehensive American effort on global warming.

She concludes that "permitting states like California to lead is an important part of a concrete, constructive response to climate change."


Also participting in the online debate are William Reilly, former E.P.A. administrator; Jonathan H. Adler, Case Western Reserve law professor; Chip Jacobs, co-author of “Smogtown” Robert W. Hahn, economist at American Enterprise Institute; and Jerry Taylor, senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

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