Arizona State Lawmakers Want to Nullify All EPA Regulations

Arizona conservatives say the federal government has no authority to impose environmental regulations, but similar arguments elsewhere have foundered.

It's no surprise when conservative state lawmakers invoke the 10th Amendment to rebuke the federal government, and it's all too common that Arizona tangles with the Obama administration.

So it may have only been a matter of time before Arizona lawmakers did both at the same time.

On Monday, 37 Arizona state lawmakers introduced a bill aiming to nullify all Environmental Protection Agency regulations in the state, arguing that the 10th Amendment precludes any federal regulations over the environment.

Arizona conservatives have already criticized EPA's upcoming proposal to limit carbon emissions in power plants, calling it part of President Obama's "War on Coal." The state has also clashed with the federal government in court over its immigration law and the Voting Rights Act. And Republican state Sen. Judy Burges, the lead sponsor of this new EPA bill, has pushed other state-sovereignty legislation, including a bill that would ban cities in Arizona from enacting sustainability programs recommended by the U.N.

Burges and several cosponsors of the bill did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawmakers join a long list of conservatives nationwide who have cited the 10th Amendment when fighting federal agencies.

The amendment, which grants state governments all powers not expressly given to the federal government, has frequently been championed by conservatives on issues including health care reform and gun control. The movement has even been collectively referred to as the "Tenther Movement."

At the World Economic Forum on Jan. 23, Texas Gov. Rick Perry spoke in favor of states forming policies on same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization, and abortion, citing the 10th Amendment, according to U.S. News and World Report. And in 2013, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., introduced a bill requiring federal agencies to prove that a rule does not conflict with the 10th Amendment if a state official challenges the rule.

But the problem with Arizona's 10th Amendment argument — and those in other states — is that the amendment has been largely meaningless for decades. Although it gives states any powers not given to the federal government, two sections of the Constitution give the federal government nearly any power it wants. The interstate commerce clause gives the federal government the right to regulate commerce, and the necessary and proper clause gives it the power pass any laws necessary to carry out its other powers.

With those clauses often liberally applied, the Supreme Court ruled in several cases in the early to mid-20th century that the 10th Amendment was a promise that the federal government would respect the states, but that it had essentially no legal power.

In 1941, Chief Justice Harlan Stone wrote that the amendment was all but pointless: "The amendment states but a truism that all is retained which has not been surrendered."