Current Events: Race to the Bottom Theory Belied

by William Yeatman on January 6, 2015

in Blog

According to the “race to the bottom” thesis, unless the federal government intervenes, States would compete with one another to lower environmental standards in order to better attract industry. This proposition took hold in the mid-1970s, and was a major intellectual influence of the 1977 and 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.

In a previous post, I summarized the work of law professors who argue that there’s no evidence—neither empirical nor theoretical—supporting the existence of a “race to the bottom.” In a similar vein, with this post, I intend only to highlight current events that militate heavily against the “race to the bottom” theory.

Today the New York Times has a story on page A-13, about California Governor Jerry Brown’s fourth inauguration speech, the centerpiece of which was his clean energy vision for the Golden State:

Gov. Jerry Brown began his fourth and final term on Monday proposing a broad reduction in California’s energy consumption over the next 15 years — including a call to slash gas consumption by cars and trucks by as much as 50 percent — as part of what he said would be a sweeping campaign to heighten the state’s role in the fight against global warming.

Mr. Brown, a longtime champion of electric cars and limiting greenhouse gas emissions, called in his inauguration speech for 50 percent of California’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2030, up from the current goal of one-third by 2020, and doubling the energy efficiency of existing buildings.

Gov. Brown’s speech—calling for costly energy regulations and mandates in order to mitigate climate change—plainly flies in the face of “race to the bottom” theory. If anything, his pledge to increase the state’s green energy production quota to 50 percent (well above the 28 other States that have implemented green energy production mandates) suggests the existence of a “race to the top.”

Similar evidence can be found across the country, in North Carolina. In response to high profile spills of coal combustion residuals in the southeast, both the EPA and North Carolina developed regulatory regimes to control these materials, which are also known as “coal ash.” Last August, the Tar Heel State enacted its enabling statute, the Coal Ash Management Act; EPA finished its coal ash regulation on December 19.

In seeming contravention of the “race to the bottom” theory, North Carolina’s regulation is more stringent than the federal rule, and the State has no intention of lowering its standard. According to an Associated Press report from yesterday,

Rep. Chuck McGrady, a legislator who helped draft North Carolina’s law, said he doesn’t anticipate the new federal rules having any effect on the state’s efforts. The state law requires Duke to either remove or cap all of its ash pits by 2029.

“I do not expect there will be any effort to weaken the North Carolina law to bring it into line with the federal regulations,” said McGrady, R-Henderson.

These stories lend further evidence to the fact that a major intellectual underpinning of the Clean Air Act (and federal environmental regulation in general) is simply not true.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: