By John Holusha As a result of federal inaction, many
important environmental policies are being set at the state level,
often to the dismay of the industries affected.
In response to the states' activism on environmental matters,
some industries are rushing to Washington, seeking uniform federal
Maine, for instance, has banned the multi-layer boxes used for
children's drinks because they are not recyclable. California
enforces stiffer standards for auto emissions than most states, and
last year Massachusetts required vehicles to meet the California
And in 1988 seven Northeast states required oil companies to
lessen the volatility of gasoline in summer months, seeking to reduce
the amount of smog-forming chemicals in the atmosphere.
The Northeast states, which have the most severe trash disposal
problems, may soon take the lead in measures to reduce the
generation of solid waste. Once again, the lack of action at the
federal level is inducing state level initiatives.
``Over the past 10 years public opinion has become more
supportive of the environment, and state officials have recognized
it better than federal officials,'' said Michael E. Kraft, a
professor at the University of Wisconsin.
Students of government say the anti-regulation, free market
orientation of the Reagan and Bush administrations produced a power
vacuum on some environmental issues.
``Most state officials would argue that these things should be
done at the federal level, but they are not getting done,'' said
Richard Dennison, a scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, a
research and litigation group based in New York. ``So you are going
to have a lot of different approaches by the states and you have to
anticipate some failures along with successes.''
Fearful of a crazy-quilt pattern of state regulations, the
consumer products industry has asked the Federal Trade Commission to
issue guidelines on the use of labels that claim environmental
The industry's action was prompted by different sets of
regulatikns adopted by New York, California and Rhode Island, and by
a challenge from a group of state attorneys general to the claims of
The trade comission agreed last week to hold hearings on the
issue, although it may act without pre-empting state laws.
``Consumers, industry and state attorneys general want and need
national environmental marketing guidelines,'' said John R. Cady,
president of the National Association of Food Processors, which led
the industry's appeal.
Absent any federal action, the industries' desire for uniformity
could mean that a relatively few large states might set what amount
to national standards. This appears to be happening with auto
emissions, environmentalists and state officials say.
When Congress passed the Clean Air Act last year, it set new
limits on emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and oxides of
nitrogen. As it has in the past, Congress permitted California to
issue more demanding standards and allowed other states to adopt the
stiffer California standards.
Previously, other states were content with the federal
standards, but last year Massachusetts imposed the California
standards and New York officials issued a rule requiring that cars
meet the California standards starting with 1993 models and have
begun another proceeding to embrace the stiffer rules California
will begin in 1995.
Michael Bradley, executive director of Northeast States for
Coordinated Air Use Management, a group of air pollution officials,
said as many as nine other states were considering adopting the
Officials and environmentalists say that if enough big states
take this step, auto makers will be forced to improve the emissions
performance of their cars across the board. …