RALEIGH, N.C. (Jun. 27, 2016) – A bill originally written to prohibit North Carolina from assisting in the enforcement of certain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules was drastically altered in committee, taking out the provisions that would have pushed back against federal regulations.
Introduced by Sen. Chad Barefoot (R-Wake), Sen. Jim Davis (R-Cherokee), and Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Madison) along with seven co-sponsors in March of last year, Senate Bill 303 (SB303) would have prevented state-level enforcement of recently-passed EPA rules that would impose a maximum particulate cap on new wood-powered heaters.
The bill read, in part:
Neither the Commission nor the Department shall enforce any federal air emissions standard adopted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency after May 1, 2014, that would jeopardize the health, safety, or economic well‑being of a citizen of this State through the regulation of fuel combustion that is used directly or indirectly to provide hot water or comfort heating to a residence or comfort heating to a business.
The legislation had some initial success. It passed the Senate by a 40-9 vote last year. However, SB303 did not make it to the House floor intact. By the time the bill was approved unanimously by the House this year, language that would have effectively nullified the EPA’s rules on wood-powered heaters was removed from the bill.
After passing the House, it was sent back to the Senate, where the House amendments were rejected.
While the original legislation would not have stopped the EPA from enforcing its regulations, it would have ensured that state agencies refused to cooperate with the federal agency. Tenth Amendment Center national communications director Mike Maharrey said SB303, as introduced, would have made it much more difficult for the feds to enforce their environmental policies.
“The EPA simply doesn’t have the resources to patrol the entire state of North Carolina and ensure that every wood burning stove is in compliance. It would depend on state help, as the feds do with virtually all of their actions. This bill would ensure the state of does not cooperate with unconstitutional EPA actions,” he said.
Measures such as SB303 rest upon a firm legal basis with Supreme Court rulings spanning nearly 200 years backing its legitimacy.
Refusing to participate with federal enforcement is not just an effective method, it has also been sanctioned by the Supreme Court in a number of major cases, dating from 1842.
The 1997 case, Printz v. US serves as the cornerstone. In it, Justice Scalia held:
The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program.
As noted Georgetown Law Constitutional Scholar Randy Barnett has said, “This line of cases is now … considered well settled.”
With the legality of these measures not in dispute, that gives state legislators no recourse except to pass measures that push back against the EPA as well as other federal regulatory agencies overstepping their boundaries.
The House has an opportunity to change course, and accede to the Senate, passing the original version of the bill and sending it to the Governor’s desk. If they refuse to do so, a “conference committee” of members from both chambers will be appointed to work out the differences.