ECOS to EPA: It’s the Economy, Stupid

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

The Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) convened its 18th Annual Meeting earlier this week in Indianapolis, Indiana. Having attended all but one ECOS meeting since the inception of the organization in 1993, it has been a while since I’ve seen anything happen for the first time. The states agreed to craft a message to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the costs and challenges of its greenhouse gas emissions reduction policy.

State environmental agency leaders discussed two competing resolutions to deal with the EPA greenhouse gas targets. Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Tom Easterly introduced one resolution, and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Commissioner Collin O’Mara offered an alternative resolution. The primary difference between the two was that the Delaware version remained deferential to EPA’s timeline and the economic consequences of not achieving significant reductions. Both of these resolutions were similarly titled, “The Challenge/Feasibility of Achieving Significant Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Reductions,” and both resolutions focused squarely on the economic costs associated with EPA’s impending greenhouse gas regulations.

When the resolutions were brought up for consideration at ECOS, all environmental agency leaders agreed that a unified message should be sent to EPA on the issue. The ECOS members politely agreed to table the resolutions and assemble a work group to develop a single message to EPA that would have the full backing of ECOS and that all could support. If the work group succeeds, this message will be brought forward for consideration at the spring 2012 meeting.

While discussions of the economic impact of most EPA regulations have been a mainstay at ECOS, true discussion about the economic impacts and costs of regulating greenhouse gas emissions is unprecedented. Many state environmental commissioners approach climate change policy with views that are almost religious and would never, historically, entertain a discussion of costs.

ECOS has attempted to discuss a unified climate change policy many times in the past. The outcome of those discussions was always predictable—ECOS members would break down into two entrenched camps that would, after much consternation, agree to disagree. Whether they will be able to develop a unified message this time is, of course, not year clear. However, the simple fact that ECOS demonstrated such solidarity in assembling a work group to craft a single message to EPA on the costs and challenges associated with this EPA policy is indicative of a fundamental change. State environmental commissioners have been placed under such extreme pressure by this stalled economy.

Unlike EPA, the states do not have the luxury of simply setting a blanket environmental standard without having a plan for how to get there. This EPA has been prolific in developing rules which state officials claim will impede their states’ economic growth. In fact, over the past two years, Groups of State and Local Officials have sent 96 resolutions and letters to EPA. These letters decry the results of the rulemaking process that threaten to do further harm to the states and their economies.

As demonstrated at this week’s ECOS meeting, 2011 marks a year in which even the most environmentally-friendly state environmental commissioners are forced to face the economic realities of these difficult times. In other states, 2011 marks the year in which Governors have taken an even stronger stand within their own states against overregulation. So far six Governors have issued rulemaking moratoria to foster a more positive business environment and to stave off further job losses. The moratoria in Arizona, Nevada and Washington are still in effect and will remain so until 2012.

Having worked on environmental issues for more than 20 years, I was pleased to witness the discussion on this and other instances of EPA over-regulation that took place at the ECOS meeting. I just hope that EPA and the Administration were paying close attention.

Is this rumbling being heard either by EPA or by the White House? Some would argue the proof lies in the Administration’s recent withdrawal of the NAAQS ozone standard. Do you think that the EPA and the White House are waking up to the fact that overregulation hampers economic growth? Or was the withdrawal a mere gesture of deference for struggling state economies?

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