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The Constitution and The Environment

The Current (University of Missouri, St. Louis)
September 24, 2007
Jeremy Trice

Last week's Constitution Day opened up with brunch hosted by Missouri Rep. Jake Zimmerman, in the Century Rooms of the MSC.

The theme of Constitutional Day this year was "Is the Constitution Green Enough? Constitutional Challenges in the Global Warming Era." The first speaker was Rep. Zimmerman.

His speech revolved around environmental issues, especially global warming. He talked about the question of whether or not the U.S. Constitution has enough power to protect the environment.

According to Zimmerman, making comparisons between Europe and Asia's uses of natural resources with that of the United States could influence U.S. citizens to question the ability of the U.S. Constitution to protect the environment.

The next speaker was Edward "Ted" Heisel, attorney for the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic. His speech was on how President Bush has placed an emphasis on executive power and used tools such as executive orders and court appointments to push environmental policy in a politically conservative direction.

According to Heisel, the president's two conservative appointees to the Supreme Court have moved the court in the direction of more property protection rights.

Bill Lambrecht, chief of the St. Louis Post Dispatch's Washington Bureau, spoke about the policy process that the Constitution has set in motion. According to Lambrecht, environmental groups have less influence than producer groups like the oil and ethanol industries.

Lambrecht also spoke about how very influential Democrats in Congress will, "resist policies that will harm industries in their home districts." Lambrecht's example of this was Michigan's John Dingell, whose district includes the major American oil companies and according to Lambrect, will most likely resist higher fuel economy rules for automobiles.

Doug Kendall, founder and executive director of Community Rights Counsel, discussed what he says were four different Clauses of the Constitution: the "Commerce Clause" which gives Congress the power to regulate "commerce among the several states," the "Supremacy Clause" which declares that laws made by Congress are the "supreme law of the land" and the third Clause which according to Kendall, is "the language of article three of the Constitution that limits the role of Federal Courts to "cases and controversies."

The final Clause is the "Takings Clause" which states "nor shall private property be taken for public use without compensation."

"Does the federal government have the Constitutional authority it needs to broadly protect the environment," Kendall asked the audience.

Kendall also spoke to the audience about Rapanos v. United States, a case involving a real estate developer (Rapanos) in Michigan who was convicted of violating the Clean Air Act by filling up exactly 51 acres of wetland without a permit.

Kendall asked many questions in his speech as well as spoke about multiple topics and ended with the statement, "Let's hope we have a Supreme Court that is as wise as our Framer's were 220 years ago."

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