Anyone — especially Democrats still bitter over Al Gore’s presidential loss — who says the U.S. Supreme Court is just a bastion of “right-wing extremists” should take a look at the justices’ most recent ruling involving the Clean Air Act.
On Tuesday, Fox News reported that the high court “upheld the way the federal government sets clean-air standards, rejecting industry arguments that officials must balance compliance costs against the health benefits of cleaner air.”
At issue were business and industry concerns that the Clean Air Act, passed in 1970 as the federal government’s premier environmental law, was overreaching, overregulatory, and was not being fairly administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Oh, and the rules issued by the EPA just cost too much.
Lawyers for business and industry argued that the EPA too often used overly-broad interpretations of the law to write unnecessary regulations. Indeed, they hinted, depending on the administration in power, sometimes those rules were based more on political concerns and less on using sound science to ensure we have clean air to breathe — as the law says the EPA must do.
Gee, there’s a revelation; an agency doing the bidding of the power elite? Say it isn’t so.
Anyone with an objective viewpoint knows that the vast array of federal agencies — the EPA included — has a long and disturbing history of issuing rules, regulations and “guidelines” that not only cost American industry (and, hence, consumers) some $800 billion annually, but which are distinctly politically motivated.
During the eight years of the Clinton administration, thousands of pages of new rules and regulations were issued, especially by the EPA, as a means to placate core liberal constituency groups. The new regs had a helluva lot less to do with making sure we all had “safe drinking water and air” than they did with garnering increased support from environmental wacko groups.
But most laws that established these agencies prohibit such political-regulatory motivation. The laws that established the EPA, for one, clearly state that any new environmental rules and regulations must be issued based on the most valid, recent and technologically-correct research data.
Who among us actually believes this is the most common criteria used by the EPA and its sister agencies? Give me a break.
Rather, standard regulatory operating procedure is most often driven by the administration in power and, to a lesser extent, by allies in Congress who control funding for these agencies.
This is one of Washington’s “dirty little secrets,” and it would be nice if more Supreme Court decisions would reflect this reality.
While there are certainly some decent students of the Constitution sitting on the Supreme Court bench, clearly there are not enough. Few high court decisions these days seem to reflect the reality that there is a common problem with interpreting the application of government regulations; the laws written to empower agencies are arbitrary, so the regulations issued are also discretionary. So too, then, are high-court rulings that seek to precisely define that which is indistinguishable to begin with.
I don’t expect President Bush to circumvent Supreme Court rulings; that would be — how shall I say? — Clintonesque. But he has an opportunity — or will have — to appoint justices that understand and appreciate his own constitutional vision regarding the application of federal regulations.
In his first major policy speech on environmental issues in April 2000, in Pittsburgh, Mr. Bush said: “The command-and-control structure out of Washington, D.C., won’t work” anymore when it comes to environmental policy (or most other public policy). “The idea of suing our way or regulating our way to clean air and clean water is not effective public policy.
“The old system of mandate, regulate and litigate only sends potential developers off in search of greener pastures — literally,” Mr. Bush said. Ditto for other agencies, other issues, other regulations.
Now that he is president, will he try to act on these beliefs? Or will the Bush administration continue to foster the top-down federal model of command-control politics, like the Supreme Court does?
We have flaws in our constitutional system, but that’s not because our constitutional system is flawed. If our founding fathers made one mistake, it was in assuming that only the most honorable people would be elected to serve the rest of us.