An interesting article by Jonathan Adler explodes the myth that state and local inattention to environmental problems spurred the passage of federal environmental laws:
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, state and local governments began to recognize the importance of environmental quality and adopted first-generation environmental controls. Some states’ efforts were more comprehensive and more successful than others, and different states had different priorities. Environmental protection did not always trump health care, education, or other local concerns. Nonetheless, by 1966, every state had adopted water pollution legislation of some sort.
A similar pattern of state and local action preceded federal regulation in other areas as well. Federal regulation of wetlands, for example, began after a federal district court interpreted the Clean Water Act to require it in 1975. But state and local regulation had begun much earlier. In 1963, Massachusetts became the first state to regulate wetland development, modeling its initial efforts on preexisting local rules. By 1975, all fourteen states in the continental United States with more than ten percent of their land area in wetlands adopted wetland protection measures (Adler 1999).
After offering a series of examples that refute the myth, he goes on to examine the real factors that led to the adoption of federal environmental regulation. Here’s one particularly salient factor:
Read the whole thing.