The Pollution Laboratory of the States: Wyoming Edition

Conservatives love to idealize federalism and the power of the states. Unless, that is, those states are doing this conservatives don’t like, such as implementing single-payer healthcare or decriminalizing marijuana.

Most on the left understand that the fetishism for state power over federal power comes from an instinct toward localism–after all, conservative states love nothing more than to trump the power of their largest liberal cities even as they bar municipalities from interfering with big business–but rather from a desire to implement prejudicial policies and corporate-friendly without interference from a larger, more populist entity.

In conservative areas the laboratory of the states tends to produce toxic results, both literally and figuratively. Most recently in Wyoming literally made it illegal to collect data about pollution:

A new Wyoming law expands on the “ag-gag” trend of criminalizing whistleblowers in a new way: making it illegal for citizens to gather data about environmental pollution. Wyoming’s Senate Bill 12, or the “Data Trespassing Bill” as it’s being called, criminalizes the collection of “resource data.”

It defines collection as “to take a sample of material, acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form from open land which is submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government.”

This sort of thing isn’t limited to Wyoming or even to pollution. Some states have passed similar laws designed to prevent the public from learning how livestock are abused.

Republicans would like to do likewise at the federal level in many areas, including but not limited to NASA gathering data about climate change. Fortunately, they haven’t been able to implement their agenda of opaque corporate malfeasance at the federal level, so they continue to sing paeans to federalism.

But it’s not really about state versus federal power, nor will it ever be. If they could enact their agenda via the federal government, they would. But they can’t, because they don’t actually have a majority for their backwards policies.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.