Alaska clean air decision

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(Host) The Supreme Court has ruled, five to four, that EPA clean air regulations take precedence over state requirements in an Alaska case. Commentator Ruth Page wonders why the vote wasn’t unanimous.

(Page) Alaska is home to what is already the largest zinc mine on the planet. Now Alaska wants to let the mine expand, increasing air-fouling emissions.

Alaska’s environmentalists fought the plan and the standoff went to the Supreme Court. Understandably, the Court said federal regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency took precedence over state regulations. Harder to understand was the closeness of the Supreme Court vote: 5 to 4.

Apparently four Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court think it’s ok for state law to take precedence over federal regulation in environmental matters, as if environmental effects paid any attention to state borders. The increasingly fouled air over the huge mine will certainly flow where the wind carries it; what wind respects state borders?

Nature doesn’t know how to improve cleanliness of essential environmental factors – clean water, clean air, clean soil – in one spot and not in an adjacent one. We know that foul air from the Midwest blows across many state lines to damage trees and waterways in the Eastern states. Should the states hosting polluting power companies have the right to decide nothing need be done to reduce dirty emissions, no matter how many problems it creates elsewhere?

Why are Vermont, New York and Quebec combining forces to clean up Lake Champlain? Obviously, the Lake flows through all three; one alone can’t do the job.

The Supreme Court case was argued in October; just a month later the Administration dropped more than fifty investigations into violations of the Clean Air Act, thus sharply reducing the EPA’s authority. And the EPA Press Secretary actually said while the Court decision pleased the Agency, it still believes states have the primary responsibility for enforcing environmental statutes. All I can say is, “Why?”

Nowadays, all states have serious fiscal problems, and are tempted to do what large tax-paying companies want; but in most cases it isn’t because they aren’t interested in environmental improvement, it’s because they’re growing desperate. The cost of more and more federal mandates is being turned over to states that are already operating in the red. Many are forced to reduce essential social services, and restrict school spending.

In the case of Alaska, environmental problems are compounded by the fact that the state’s representatives in Congress have for years sought to concentrate on tax income to the state, not to protecting its world-treasure environment.

When any living creatures foul their own nests, there comes a day of reckoning. For the human race, that’s a fearsome idea.

This is Ruth Page in Shelburne, Vermont.

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