Conservatives Must Fight for the 10th Amendment
As East Palestine Shows, Lives Literally Depend On It.
As you know, the tragic and highly toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, 2023, devastated the community there causing unknown environmental damage that won’t be truly known for years. As one water and sewage engineer expert told me, it could take up to a decade for the toxic chemicals in the soil to seep into groundwater. The noxious chemical release into the air also will impact the environment downwind in still unknown ways. As for the river, U.S. Senator J.D. Vance vividly demonstrated with a simple stroke along the riverbed that stirred up a chemical slick for all to see there are toxins in the water.
Much of the criticism from the Right has correctly focused on President Joe Biden’s weak response and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s even worse reaction. Biden put visiting Ukraine ahead of visiting East Palestine and only approving aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after former President Donald Trump indicated he would visit East Palestine are ridiculous displays of partisanship given how East Palestine votes. Protecting the Biden Family’s Ukraine investment shouldn’t come before protecting Americans.
As for Buttigieg, he first ignored the tragic derailment focusing instead on the skin color of contractors on urban infrastructure projects. He made things even worse when he dismissed what happened in East Palestine in a 9/11 Ilhan Omar-ish “some people did something” manner, noting over 1,000 derailments happen annually. C’mon, East Palestine, derailments happen so get over the toxic spill, the mushroom cloud of toxic chemicals burning, and the skittishness you have over your town really being “clean.”
The DeWine-Husted Administration also deserve a heavy dose of criticism. First, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s and Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted’s overall responses have been to dismiss the safety concerns of Ohioans living in and near East Palestine. This dismissiveness was best illustrated by Husted’s impersonation of Barack Obama after the Flint, Michigan, water crisis when he drank some water. The issue isn’t so much the filtered water from a tap, but the toxicity of the ground, air, and water that doesn’t run through a filtration system. When people are finding dead pets and farm animals, complaining about physical medical issues, and expressing skepticism on the government’s claim that the entire area is perfectly clean after literally seeing a massive black cloud of poison burning just down the street, staging a photo-op drinking filtered water is simply tone deaf.
Both Republican Vance and Democrat U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown remain highly concerned about the toxicity in Ohio, so more than a photo-op is required to restore trust.
Equally troubling from my perspective has been the DeWine Administration’s pleas for Washington to do something, as if DeWine and Husted didn’t have substantial state resources they could have mobilized to East Palestine. They’ll move heaven and earth for Intel in Columbus, but a rural county apparently just doesn’t deserve a similar sense of urgency. DeWine first called for Congress to pass a law on the notification requirements when transporting deadly chemicals. He then begged for FEMA assistance, which Biden initially declined as he hid behind technical requirements of the Stafford Act knowing full-well he possessed the power to issue a waiver of those requirements.
Does anyone believe Florida Governor Ron DeSantis would have stood pat begging for Washington to help as a crisis unfolded? He would have grabbed the reins and lead by mobilizing all state resources at his disposal and bringing the private sector to bear as rapidly as possible. He most certainly wouldn’t have worried about who was ultimately footing the bill until after the crisis was over in order to bring aid and comfort to his constituents as quickly as possible.
Instead, DeWine and Husted fiddled while East Palestine literally burned.
It took more than two weeks from the toxic derailment for DeWine and Husted to finally open a medical clinic for East Palestine residents. With Biden’s tardy acquiescence, FEMA will now deploy to East Palestine to provide residents with the very same resources the state of Ohio could have and should have been providing since February 3rd.
Am I the only conservative in Ohio who believes that the 10th Amendment actually stands for something? That crazy idea that the states and the People reserved powers under the Constitution. Instead of putting their hands out to Washington, DeWine and Husted should have led with a firm hand for East Palestinians.
Rather than waiting for (a divided and hyper-partisan) Congress to act, they should have demanded the supermajority Republican Ohio General Assembly pass legislation requiring rail companies to notify state officials when toxic chemicals would be coming through Ohio. I understand the federal government would argue state action is preempted, but the massive expansion of the federal government far beyond the enumerated powers expressly listed in the Constitution that occurred during the New Deal is ripe to be challenged, especially on an issue of public health and safety and, more critically, with a 6-3 conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. Several members of that majority have expressed interest in reviving the 10th Amendment and curbing Washington excess.
I’d gladly spend $10 million fighting the federal government all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court on an issue of state sovereignty and safety over continuing to genuflect at the altar of the Washington administrative state leviathan. Some fights are worth fighting, but too many allegedly conservative governors lack the spine to fight those fights.
Similarly, instead of begging for FEMA aid, DeWine and Husted should have opened a medical clinic within 24-hours of the toxic derailment and used all available state resources, including the rainy-day fund, to provide the hard-working Ohioans from East Palestine with whatever they needed in the hours, days, and weeks following the toxic derailment. Waiting seventeen days to do those things until Biden finally relented showed an unhealthy dependency on Washington that no conservative administration should possess. More importantly, the delay hurt Ohioans, which is shameful.
I “get” why my friends on the Right want to focus their criticism on the Biden Administration, but they should save a little blame for the DeWine Administration, too. If we aren’t willing to call a spade a spade when that spade is on our side, we won’t have the credibility we need when we aim it at the other side. It will be dismissed as mere politics. I’ve spent my career making the case for states taking back power from Washington (here, here, and here) because it is what the Constitution requires and I believe wholeheartedly that the fifty laboratories of competition always do a far better job of making the lives of their resident better than the one-size fits all federal government does.
Both the Biden Administration and DeWine Administration deserve our reproach for their weak responses to the toxic train derailment in East Palestine. The incident shows why it is more important than ever to reinvigorate the 10th Amendment and let competitive federalism fix America’s toughest problems. That is why my agenda contains such strong positions on making Ohio the national voice on restoring state power to its rightful position in our lives. Lives literally depend on it.