One hundred years ago, progressives believed that states were laboratories of democracy, small-scale testing grounds for innovative policies. While the civil-rights struggle cast that view into disfavor, it may be on its way to a renaissance, led by forward-thinking state leaders concerned about the environment. Spurred by the federal government’s failure to tackle many environmental problems in a timely fashion (or at all), state legislatures from California to New Mexico to Maryland are pushing funding for renewable energy and passing restrictions on pollution from power plants and heavy trucks. These moves take place in the context of a larger political shift that is seeing Republicans — traditionally states’ rights advocates — push for concentrated federal power, while Democrats — since the 1930s, advocates of federal standards — back states’ rights in policy areas as diverse as medical marijuana, education, gay marriage, and energy efficiency.
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