Saturday, November 26, 2005

U.S. States and International Law: Venezuelan Oil Deal with Massachusetts; Global Emission Standards in New York

Federalism can be a tricky issue when it comes to foreign relations. On the one hand, states of the U.S. may not enter into treaties as foreign policy is the reserve of the federal government but, on the other hand, if a U.S. state breaches international law, it is the country as a whole that is responsible under international law.

This week there were two stories concerning states of the U.S. and foreign policy. First, there are the reports of Massachusetts and New York entering into agreements with the government of Venezuela and Citgo, the U.S. sub of the Venezuelan national oil company, to provide cheap heating oil to low income housing in those states. While states are not allowed to enter into treaties, they do in fact enter into many such agreements on a whole host of foreign trade and investment issues. In any given year, in fact, the number of state government foreign trade missions dwarfs the number of such missions from the federal government. Of course, these Venezuelan oil deals are especially contentious since Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will use them to thumb his nose at the U.S. government. The deal was announced by Chavez during an official visit to Cuba, no less. I guess this is payback for Pat Roberston ordering a fatwa on Chavez, but at least it is payback in which some poor people can get cheaper heating oil.

Another aspect of international law and federalism has been how international standards have affected state regulations. New York has joined ten other states, including California, to have enacted (or be in the process of enacting) greenhouse gas emission standards that more closely hew international standards than those of the U.S. The result is an impending battle royale of litigation over whether New York can set more protective environmental standards than the federal government. New York isn’t claiming that it is doing this because of international law; rather I find this interesting because the international discourse on greenhouse emissions, as centered around the Kyoto Treaty, undoubtedly informed this bit of domestic legal change. The New York Times specifically mentioned that Gov. George Pataki supported the global greenhouse gas emission regulations and subsequently sought action by the NY state government. The results could be significant. The New York Times reports:

"The two biggest contributors to global warming are power plants and motor vehicles," said David Doniger, a senior lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "If you deal with them, you deal with more than two-thirds of the problem."

But automakers contend that the regulations will limit the availability of many sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, vans and larger sedans, since they will effectively require huge leaps in gas mileage to rein in emissions. The industry also says the rules will force them to curb sales of more-powerful engines in the state, and ultimately harm consumers by increasing the cost of vehicles.

The standards are the most ambitious environmental regulations for automobiles since federal fuel economy regulations were enacted in the 1970's. They will be phased in starting with 2009 models and require a roughly 30 percent reduction in automotive emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by the 2016 models.


So, between foreign oil deals and the give and take of norms between the international and domestic system, states of the U.S. often affect—and are affected by—international law and international relations.

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