Is “Localism” the Answer?

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Gracy Olmstead argues that there may be a solution to our fractured partisan politics: localism. She states

at the local level, our interests intertwine: They are practical, achievable, even apolitical.This is localism, a bottom-up, practically oriented way of looking at today’s biggest policy dilemmas. Instead of always or only seeking to fix municipal issues through national policy, localism suggests that communities can and should find solutions to their own particular problems, within their own particular contexts. The best walkability solutions for Washington, D.C., may not work in my town.

Olmstead cites a sustainability case as an example:

Localism manifests itself in a variety of forms. The farmer and author Joel Salatin has seen localism thrive within the sustainable agriculture movement: States like Wyoming and Maine have campaigned for “local food freedom laws,” which enable farmers to sell certain goods to neighbors without as much federal oversight or bureaucratic red tape.

What are other examples related to environmental politics that might be resolved through “localism”?

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State Attorneys General Take on the Trump Administration

A group of Democratic state attorneys general has taken 80 legal actions against the Trump administration over environmental policies, and is promising even more.

http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/376072-dem-ags-pledge-to-keep-suing-trump-admin-over-environmental

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/8c3272f6ebbb6024dc1359725/files/f484cbf6-b27f-4886-ab91-c02397e38521/Web_Report_StateImpactCenter_Final.02.pdf

States Pick up Slack with Federal Enviro Cuts

by Remo Diventura

The Trump Administration’s budget cuts include reducing federal environmental protections by millions of dollars. As a result, state governments are filling the gaps, with 23 states (including PA) proposing a combined total of 112 new policies to limit exposure to toxic chemicals. This isn’t about emissions or pollution specifically, but about what one is calling “common sense chemical reform”. This includes banning some pesticides, paint removers, fire-retardants, plastic additives, and water regulations. The belief behind this is to help not only the environment by removing harmful chemicals, but with public health. Many of these regulations are aimed at fixing the overburdened healthcare system. In Pennsylvania specifically, two bills have been proposed. One bans the use of a certain chemical (bisphenol-A) in food and beverage containers. The other requires the Environmental Quality Board to adopt a limit on perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water.

What these regulations will do to either public health or the environment is not really known. But the fact this is panning out in the current presidential administration is interesting to see, especially with many of these states also vowing to continue with the Paris Agreement regardless.

http://www.ehn.org/states-toxic-chemicals-legislation-epa-2534500012.html

New York Joins States in Suing EPA

by Zachary Coppick

Widener University Political Science Major

Last Tuesday New York joined a growing number of states that are suing the EPA. This law suit is over the EPA’s lack of regulation on wood burning heating systems. In 2010 all outdoor wood burners were ordered to cut emissions by 90 percent by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. However, the EPA has not followed suit by mandating the same change for the entire country. New York and other states are saying that the EPA’s 25 year old emission limits on wood burners are outdated and need to be revised by the federal agency.

Due to the nature of wood burning pollutants this is a large problem for New York.  Wood smoke has been linked to having pollutants that can cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death. Sounds a little harsh but that information was published by the attorney general’s office in 2008.  Also the EPA has stated that wood heaters soot contributes 13 percent to the soot pollution in the country. This would be a very good reason to have them regulated better. Since 1988 the EPA was supposed to review and revise the wood burning regulations ever eight years, but as we can see that didn’t happen. These regulations and policy were outlined in the Clean Air Act which is the state’s main point. An estimated 14,500 outdoor wood burners have been sold in New York since 2000 which is cause to have them regulated properly. The EPA has made no comment on this so far and this does not come at a surprise because due to the government shut down they are no longer working.

http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/2013/10/09/new-york-joins-states-in-suing-epa-over-wood-boilers/2953193/

Expanding Pre-School Education: An Issue with Federalism

by Katrina Kelly

Widener University Political Science Major

There has been much talk in Congress about Obama’s latest plan to expand pre-school education at the federal level. The President wants to use federal money to support state-based pre-school programs around the country by hiring higher paying teachers that undergo yearly evaluations and making it more affordable and accessible to people. The new early education plan by the President seeks to increase the number of children in pre-school, especially from low income households. This plan could cost up to ten billion dollars a year, which is almost a tenth of the entire current federal education budget. There is a major split in the House on this issue between Democrats and Republicans.

House GOP conservatives are worried that expanding an already large entitlement program is a slippery-slop towards even bigger government. One of the arguments against expanding this program is that there are already numerous early education programs at the state level as well as the federal level. Many in Congress want to know what exactly this proposed program will do differently than the ones that already exist. Another House GOP fear, justifiably so, is an increase in the ever expanding deficit by this program.  Many feel that there is not enough evidence that large-scale pre-school programs like the one Obama proposes will even be of much significance for children in the long run.

On the other side of the aisle, many House Democrats are supportive of Obama’s early education expansion program. Many agree with the President that high quality pre-school education makes a distinct and significant difference in children’s lives over the long run. Many feel that children are our future and we need to cultivate them starting at the earliest age possible. There have been numerous tests and studies shown that the earlier a child starts school, the more acclimated he or she in society as well an overall improvement in the long-run in terms of education and progressive development.

This comes down to the age old question in Congress between the Democrats and the GOP: how much or how little should government be involved? This program will be one of the biggest expansions of education at the federal level in over a decade. The conservative members of the House Republicans feel that this is a matter for the states to decide coupled with the fact that there are already many early education programs offered at the state and local level. Whereas, House Democrats feel that this is not an over-step by the federal government, more of a partnership with the states on an important issue. Federalism arguments at its best!

Increase Gas Tax to Fund Infrastructure Reform?

by Scott Hill

Widener University Political Science Major

With everything that is happening in the world, it is easy to lose sight of some of the important domestic issues. On Thursday, February 14th Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell asked Congress to consider a few options concerning our infrastructure. He suggested increasing the gas tax, allowing states to toll more on roads and providing more grants for multi-state projects that can help fund improvements to our infrastructure. Rendell says that “moving goods is one of the keys to American competitiveness, and we are getting our brains beat in”. Opponents to this are claiming that instead of looking for ways to cost-effectively improve conditions Rendell is jumping straight to increasing taxes. One controversial issue raised by Rendell is the institution of a user fee based on miles traveled in individual cars. This user fee can end up flirting with an invasion of privacy and will not be popular with working people who require a long commutes.

I think that it makes sense to use an increase in gas tax to fund infrastructure reform since transportation will be directly funding itself. I also see how a user fee can directly counteract the diminishing returns of a gas tax due to the increasing efficiency of cars. However, in-order to track movements in miles and to remove user error a tracking system will be placed in each car documenting movements, this can easily be viewed as an invasion of privacy. When it comes to increasing the gas tax however, Rendell says that “We need to figure out what is right…What we need for the future of this country…and accept the political consequences”. He goes on to say that there is not an American out there that does not want a better infrastructure, because each and every citizen benefits from it in some way.