Hazardous Materials Transportation in an Age of Devolution


Political Science and International Affairs

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The United States has entered an age of devolution. As political responsibility has begun to shift from the federal government back to the states, many questions concerning an appropriate intergovernmental relationship remain unclear. In the area of environmental law, for example, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case, Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) (1996), that restricted DOT’s authority to preempt state bonding requirements for hazardous materials transporters. The court’s ruling ignored many precedents indicating that Congress intended to provide broad preemption authority to DOT under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act and arguably undermined standards articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council (1984). This article explores the court’s opinion and asks whether the Massachusetts case represents a deliberate change in federalism principles or whether the holding is an example of a de facto devolution of power.