Conservatives for States Rights … Until States Go Green

Bill Scher

Republicans are always warning us of the scourge of federal power and glorifying the genius of the states – aka the laboratories of democracy.

On clean energy standards, conservatives have been getting their way. While Republican obstructionism has prevented the federal government from setting clean energy standards, many states have decided to set their own.

From a conservative perspective, this should be dreamy. Look at those wondrous laboratories go! 29 governments, close to the people, made their own clean energy regulations.

They helped double our renewable energy capacity in just four years. 12 years from now, these rules are projected to help power the equivalent of 47 million homes with clean energy alone. States rights FTW! Amirite?

Not according to the Right.

For some reason, when states decide to create their own regulations, conservatives tuck their states’ rights arguments away.

As GreenTech Media reported, conservative groups are fighting to scrap or weaken clean energy rules in 22 states.

How far are conservatives going to kill state-based clean energy? Get this.

In Colorado, a lawsuit led by a secretly financed Beltway conservative group called American Tradition Institute argues that the state’s clean energy standard violates the federal Constitution’s “commerce clause,” which reads, “The Congress shall have power … To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes”.

The commerce clause is the perennially and fiercely debated part of the Constitution that conservatives have long claimed should not be interpreted to give the federal government wide-ranging regulatory power.

Now, conservatives are effectively trying to use it to say only the federal government should regulate clean energy and states are forbidden to get involved.

The strategy lays bare the fundamental hypocrisy of modern conservatism.

There are no “federalist” conservatives praising and defending state-based clean energy regulations. States’ rights arguments get thrown out the window as soon as the states start deciding to enact liberal ideas. Then conservatives glom on to any legalistic argument they think they can twist toward their real ends, which in this case, is serving their fossil fuel industry donors.

If conservatives want to be seen as serious about solving problems, they could decide to mean what they say about “laboratories of democracy.” Here’s an example where in the absence of national consensus, some states tried ideas, and they worked. Now we can take these proven successes and use it to model federal legislation.

The Right, early in its soul searching phase, has not yet found the path to intellectual consistency.

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