Diagonal Federalism and Climate Change: Implications for the Obama Administration

64 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2011 Last revised: 28 Mar 2011

Hari M. Osofsky

Penn State Law (University Park)

Date Written: March 14, 2011

Abstract

The Obama Administration’s efforts on climate change continue to face daunting challenges domestically and internationally. This Article makes a novel contribution by exploring how the Obama Administration can meet these challenges more effectively though systematically addressing the multiscalar character of climate change in the areas where it has greater regulatory control. Mitigating and adapting to climate change pose complex choices at individual, community, local, state, national, and international levels. The Article argues that these choices lead to many diagonal regulatory interactions: that is, dynamics among a wide range of public and private actors which simultaneously cut across levels of government (vertical) and involve multiple actors at each level of government that it includes (horizontal).

After assessing the Obama Administration’s progress on climate change and energy issues, this Article develops a theory of diagonal federalism to explore how the Obama Administration might engage in more effective crosscutting regulatory approaches. It proposes a taxonomy for under-standing how these diagonal interactions vary across multiple dimensions over time. Specifically, the taxonomy includes four dimensions: (1) scale (large v. small); (2) axis (vertical v. horizontal); (3) hierarchy (top-down v. bottom-up); and (4) cooperativeness (cooperation v. conflict). The Article then applies this taxonomy to the case example of the Obama Administration’s efforts at reducing motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions to demonstrate how it can be used as a tool in policy-making.

The Article argues that existing diagonal efforts to regulate what cars we drive tend to be predominantly large-scale, vertical, and top-down, in line with their direct impact on automobile companies. In contrast, approaches targeting how we drive those cars, which affect those companies less directly and are grounded in land use planning, are more likely to be small-scale, horizontal, and bottom-up. This divergence creates an opportunity for normative reflection. The Article argues that the Obama Administration should consider whether these skews are appropriate by taking into account the benefits and limitations of such skews in particular contexts. It then proposes ways in which the Administration could create more balance in the dimensions and argues for the value of that balance. Specifically, the Obama Administration could explore additional opportunities for (1) greater smaller-scale governmental involvement in technology-oriented financial incentives programs; (2) federal-level, top-down, vertical initiatives connecting federal approaches to highways, railroads, and gas prices with smaller-scale efforts to have people drive less in their communities; and (3) litigation, which often has a rescaling effect, by interested individuals, non-govermental organizations, corporations, and government.

Keywords: climate change, federalism, environment, scale, motor vehicles, transportation, EPA, greenhouse gases, emissions regulation, global warming, ARRA, recovery act

Suggested Citation

Osofsky, Hari M., Diagonal Federalism and Climate Change: Implications for the Obama Administration (March 14, 2011). Alabama Law Review, Vol. 62, No. 2, 2011; Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-16. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1785583

Hari M. Osofsky (Contact Author)

Penn State Law (University Park) ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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