EPA AND THE STATES: Can’t We All Just get along?

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

When “Getting Along with your EPA Regional Official” is a session topic for new state environmental commissioners, you know there is a problem. On March 28, state environmental commissioners will convene in Alexandria, Virginia for the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) Spring Meeting. The meeting, which is always robust in policy discussions and best practices sharing, also provides an opportunity for the states to meet with both headquarter EPA officials and their regional EPA Administrators. In fact, ECOS has assumed some responsibility for ensuring a collaborative relationship between the states and EPA. As a prelude to the meeting, ECOS is holding a half-day closed meeting for new environmental commissioners, which includes the session mentioned above.

It hasn’t always been this way. Over the past several years, EPA/state interaction at the ECOS meetings has been a rather tame affair. While public disagreements over state authority and over-reaching EPA rulemakings were the hallmark of early ECOS meetings, this animosity has given way to a much more positive relationship at those meetings in recent years.

I think the mood at this meeting will be different.

In January, 28 new governors took office. Most came into office with pledges to cut state spending, balance state budgets and create jobs. Early on, some of these new (and two sitting) governors acted on these pledges with regard to state agencies. Six Governors–in Arizona, Florida, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico and Washington– believed unduly burdensome regulations were such a detriment to economic growth that they imposed moratoriums on rulemakings and ordered reviews of existing regulations.

So how might this focus on jobs and the economy play out among the environmental commissioners at the ECOS meeting? The agenda itself gives a solid indication.

The Monday lunch speaker is EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who undoubtedly will talk about her partnership with the states (having been an ECOS member as the Commissioner of New Jersey DEP). With commissioners from many of those states with newly elected governors, Administrator Jackson could be in for some pointed questions. In sharp contrast, the Tuesday lunch speaker is Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli who will discuss EPA over-reaching its authority, including what is being called the “Train Wreck” regulations such as the EPA regulation of greenhouse gases. The two speakers couldn’t have more divergent views on EPA’s activities.

Of course there is some political motivation behind the “Train Wreck” issue; but not all of the disagreements are partisan. For example, the states, almost in lock-step, have opposed the direction EPA is taking with the coal-ash rulemaking. The states believe that it is unnecessary and will overwhelm dwindling state resources. This item is the main topic of discussion during the Waste Committee meeting, and is certain to be contentious.

Despite policy differences, there are environmental commissioners who have concluded that a better partnership and working relationship between EPA and the states is beneficial for the states (or at least their state) in the long run. ECOS’ “how to get along” session is an attempt to foster that sentiment.

But, the dire state of the economy and budgets in most states may force ECOS to be the venue for states to stand up to EPA rather than standing down.

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