Under conventional principles of federalism, the federal government limits its regulatory reach to activities and issues of interstate scope and scale. The states are free to act as laboratories for innovation so long as they don’t impinge on the prerogatives of their neighbors. When the federal government requires the states to do something it has an obligation to cover the costs. (This obligation is often unmet.)
The East Valley Water District in the Inland Empire of Southern California finds itself burdened by the cost of achieving a new drinking water standard for perchlorate, and is seeking federal funds to pay for it. A case could be made for a federal subsidy under federalism principles if the federal government had set the standard. After all, there is nothing particularly “federal” about drinking water in and around San Bernardino.
But in this case, the principles of federalism are turned upside down. The drinking water standard East Valley is struggling to meet will be imposed by the State of California, not the federal government. In short, the East Valley Water District is trying to shift the cost of complying with California’s new drinking water standard to taxpayers of 49 other states (plus millions of California taxpayers served by other drinking water suppliers).