EPA and the States: Is The Honeymoon Already Over?

By Mark D. Anderson, Esq., Senior Vice President

The nation’s state environmental agency commissioners gathered this week for the 15th Annual meeting of the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS). Coming into the meeting that was held in Whitefish, Montana (just outside of Glacier National Park) you would think that the states were optimistic for the renewed partnership between the states and EPA.

Lisa Jackson was appointed EPA Administrator last March and within weeks of her appointment, she addressed the ECOS members during their Spring Meeting with talk of partnership between the states and EPA. As a former ECOS member, Jackson assured ECOS members that things were going to be different. After all, she was appointed to the position from her post as Commissioner of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. She was one of them, and she respected state’s rights and was optimistic about the ability of EPA and the states to work together to make smart environmental policy.

Jackson caught up with all of her former colleagues at that Spring Meeting, and it was quite clear to everyone that this new EPA Administrator was a friend of the states. Texas and Florida rejoined ECOS after having their membership lapse for a number of years. Coming out of that Spring Meeting, it was a good time to be a state environmental commissioner.

But that sense of partnership coming out of the Spring Meeting appears to have vanished here in Whitefish. Several weeks ago EPA’s Office of Environmental Compliance Assurance (OECA) sent letters to the states outlining their priorities. While not uncommon for EPA to indicate enforcement priorities to states generally, this time OECA outlined specific priorities for each state…sort of like “marching orders” for the states to manage the enforcement of their environmental laws. This correspondence was not well received.

While the ECOS members chose not to publicly air their grievances and general disinterest in having EPA tell them how to run their own programs, this was discussed in a closed session. To make matters worse, Administrator Jackson cancelled her appearance at the meeting. And contrary to normal etiquette at ECOS, the new EPA Administrator failed to provide an alternative lunch speaker, who would have profusely apologized for the Administrator’s absence and assure the ECOS members that this EPA was committed to this relationship.

What is clear coming out of this meeting is that this EPA under Lisa Jackson is an aggressive one. It is an EPA with a big agenda with little time for partnership building to get in the way of moving forward with bold changes in environmental regulation. It certainly appears that the honeymoon is over, and states with dwindling budgets could be in for a very long–and expensive–Administration.

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