The Corner

Energy & Environment

Federalism and the California Waiver

Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles at a Toyota dealership in El Cajon, Calif., in 2010. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

There has been a fair amount of notespeciallythoughtful commentary about the supposed conflict between conservatives’ support for federalism and the Trump administration’s attempt to stop California from setting air-pollution emissions standards for cars sold in the state.

It’s true that conservatives have often used simplistic rhetoric about federalism, speaking as though “states’ rights” should be maximized. But nobody — left, right, or center — truly believes this. Nobody truly believes that every state should be able to set product standards even if it meant that we could not have nationwide markets or had to have standards for those markets set by the strictest large state. Nobody believes that states should be able to have the right to regulate the air traffic above them however they see fit.

Nobody even believes that every state should be able to set its own emissions standards. The law at issue right now allows a waiver only for one state, California. The Trump administration’s critics aren’t clamoring to change the law to put all the other states on the same plane as California.

The law has given California a special status above that of the other 49 states for political and historical reasons, not because our federalist Constitution requires it. Arguably, the actual theory of the Constitution pushes in favor of having Congress and the courts protect national commerce from being carved up by the states. The waiver is a permissible, but not obligatory, exception to that rule.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

White House

More Evidence the Guardrails Are Gone

At the end of last month, just as the news of the Ukraine scandal started dominating the news cycle, I argued that we're seeing evidence that the guardrails that staff had placed around Donald Trump's worst instincts were in the process of breaking down. When Trump's staff was at its best, it was possible to draw ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
National Review


Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More

Is America Becoming Sinicized?

A little over 40 years ago, Chinese Communist strongman and reformer Deng Xiaoping began 15 years of sweeping economic reforms. They were designed to end the disastrous, even murderous planned economy of Mao Zedong, who died in 1976. The results of Deng’s revolution astonished the world. In four decades, ... Read More