The Right Coast

September 27, 2005
Saving Our Environment from Washington
By Mike Rappaport

That is the name of a new book written by David Schoenbrod, a law professor at New York Law School. The subtitle of the book expresses the main idea: "How Congress Grabs Power, Shirks Responsiblity, and Shortchanges the People." Schoenbrod belives that "the best environmental rules--those that done the most good--have come when Congress had to take responsibility, or from states and localities rather than EPA."

While I haven't read this book, I greatly enjoyed his earlier book, Power without Responsibility, which defended the traditional constitutional principle that forbade Congress from delegating legislative power to administrative agencies. This book continues his earlier theme, but applies it to environmental matters. Schoenbrod was once an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, so this is an area he knows something about.

Update:Schoenbrod has an excellent piece on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal, which is online only for subscribers. He writes:

After Hurricane Betsy swamped New Orleans in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson stroked its citizens ("this nation grieves for its neighbors") and pledged federal protection. The Army Corps of Engineers designed a Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Barrier to shield the city with flood gates like those that protect the Netherlands from the North Sea. Congress provided funding and construction began. But work stopped in 1977 when a federal judge ruled, in a suit brought by Save Our Wetlands, that the Corps' environmental impact statement was deficient. Joannes Westerink, a professor of civil engineering at Notre Dame, believes the barrier would have been an "effective barrier" against Katrina's fury.
Schoenbrod has a sophisticated analysis showing how environmentalists and the government failed to address the risk of a hurricane. He concludes:

There are some things only the federal government can do, but it tends to do much more than the strictly necessary. Alice Rivlin, President Clinton's director of Office of Management and Budget, argued that Congress should return many programs, including some environmental ones, to the states in order to "focus the energies of the federal government on the parts of the task for which it has a distinct advantage, and rely on the states for activities they are more likely to carry out successfully."
Good advice, but don't hold your breath.