Federal Regulation Is Suddenly Better?
Wait a minute. We thought Republicans were big on states’ rights and in favor of de-emphasizing federal controls over our lives.
But guess what. The GOP-controlled North Carolina General Assembly now wants to curtail the state’s ability to protect the healthfulness of our natural and workplace environment. And how would that be accomplished? By forbidding officials in Raleigh from adopting any regulations that are stronger than federal rules already in effect.
That is the gist of a bill in the state House and in a provision in the budget now heading for approval in the Senate.
The legislation would also require cost-benefit analyses of all proposed state rules. And if monetary costs turned out to exceed monetary benefits, then it’s goodbye, rule. As if dollars and cents were the only things that mattered in these discussions, with public health and welfare taking a back seat.
A Bone to Big Business
Does this insistence on giving federal laws precedence over state-level ones mean our new legislative leaders have suddenly recognized the superiority of regulatory acumen in Washington? Doubtful.
More likely, it is just one more example — as if there hadn’t been enough already — of the Republican leaders’ fealty to the business interests with which they are so ideologically attuned and to which they owe such gratitude for campaign financial support.
The leaders, aware that going too public with a measure that would be sure to provoke public outcry from many quarters, have engaged in a little legislative sleight-of-hand. They’ve dropped it into a big and complicated budget document as a “special provision,” in hopes of seeing it slide through with minimum commotion.
There’s nothing new about this “special provision” tactic. The Democrats often made good use of it during their century-long lock on power in Raleigh. Nor is there anything startlingly new about a law forbidding state agencies to outdo federal regs in the areas of agriculture, labor and environment. According to The News & Observer of Raleigh, former Democratic Sen. Harold Hardison, of Lenoir County, pushed through a similar law in the 1970s, but it was deservedly repealed in 1991.
State Has Special Needs
Supporters of these new changes cite the importance of maintaining a good business environment, and we couldn’t agree more with that objective in principle. Healthy business activity — all the way back to the halcyon days of tobacco, textiles and furniture — has always been the keystone of our state’s economy. But it’s not exactly as if our attractiveness to outside companies is broken and needs fixing. Indeed, Forbes.com ranked North Carolina third in the nation just last year in that department.
Federal environmental regulations are probably fine as far as they go, but they can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution. Each state has its own unique set of conditions to deal with. How many other states have as many hog farms as North Carolina, for example? Or golf courses? Or such a striking geological spectrum of beach, piedmont, sandhills and mountains?
Sadly, this effort to hamstring our ability to protect our own unique natural heritage seems to turn the concept of conservatism — a close cousin to the word “conservation” — on its ear.
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