EPA Conspicuously Absent at ECOS Spring Meeting

By Mark Anderson, Senior Vice President

The Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) convened its Spring Meeting last week in Austin, Texas. I would sum up the theme of the meeting by quoting the first lunch speaker, Executive Director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Mark Vickery, stating that the relationship between EPA and the states requires “complete reformation.” Two trends conspired to make this so—dissatisfaction with EPA over increasing mandates and policy changes with little state input, and the dramatic decline in EPA participation with ECOS. The second-day lunch keynote speech, always reserved for the EPA Administrator or an appropriate high-level designee, was absent a speaker.

Throughout the three-day meeting, issue after issue was raised by ECOS members about states not having the resources to carry out many EPA directives. Yet there was not sufficient high-level EPA involvement in the meeting to have a meaningful dialogue about it. A state and federal co-regulator relationship that should be built on trust and cooperation has clearly deteriorated.

The problem was apparent not only in the rhetoric, but also in the specific policy discussions undertaken during the meeting. At the opening plenary, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer brought up his support for HR 3867, the “Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2012.” This legislation addresses the concern of the states that EPA, with increasing frequency, will settle lawsuits by organizations by agreeing to initiate rulemakings behind closed doors. As such, by the time states are allowed to comment on the subsequent rulemaking, EPA responds by claiming that they are bound by the lawsuit. The legislation would require EPA to allow comments by affected parties prior to agreeing to settlements.

Another more heated example of this lack of communication was a discussion over new air monitoring requirements. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp spoke about the lack of clarity with EPA’s requirements. Many states chimed into the discussion both about the lack of adequate guidance from EPA in the face of substantial new requirements and the importance of good modeling. Again, the focus of the discussion was not on whether modeling is important, but the fact that EPA mandates policy changes for the states and then provides little communication or support about how to achieve them.

Which brings me to what I think is the most significant event during this meeting—passage of the resolution, “Challenges of Achieving Significant Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Reductions.” The resolution discusses the challenges that face the states in meeting the US-ratified United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change GHG emissions reduction mandate. The mandate calls for an 80 percent reduction in GHG emissions from 1990 levels by 2050—a massive undertaking by any metric. The resolution calls on EPA to provide scenarios in which states could achieve these reductions and provide a study of the costs and benefits of doing so. As I discussed in an earlier blog, true discussion amongst the states about the costs associated with complying with climate change requirements had been unprecedented. The resolution passed unanimously.

States discussing challenges posed by EPA has been a mainstay at ECOS meetings. The difference at this meeting was the level of frustration, and the lack of significant participation by EPA officials to listen and respond. This is particularly troublesome for the states during times of great budget strain at both the state and federal level, and it represents one of the most fundamental hurdles in the EPA-state relationship.

As a result, “you should contact your federal delegation,” was a suggestion offered by ECOS members to their peers far more frequently at this meeting than I have ever witnessed. EPA is no longer engaging meaningfully with the states and is forcing states to look elsewhere for guidance and support.

All good relationships require trust. When dealing with any state and local officials group, I always advise my clients to participate consistently and respect the organization and its members through open and honest communication. EPA has violated these principles and the relationship is suffering as a result.

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