In the industrialized world of today, the “commons” is the air, water, and other elements of the environment that all people share. Because no individual has the power to control the quality of his or her own personal environment independent of the behavior of his or her neighbors, government action is required to protect these common resources.
While the general principle of protecting the “commons” is accepted by most citizens, there is plenty of room for controversy in defining what to include among the protected resources, as well as how extensive the protective measures should be. However, southern California still had a serious air pollution problem. The report documented many instances of the administration’s misrepresentation or suppression of scientific information and stacking of scientific advisory committees to obscure the fact that policy decisions were based on its political agenda, which usually favored right-wing constituencies and large corporations.
The Constitution, in the Preamble, includes among the fundamental purposes of government, “to promote the general welfare.” It gives the federal government authority to regulate interstate commerce and to “collect taxes to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and the general welfare.” These powers are the basis for the federal role in public health.