Archive for March, 2012

EPA Conspicuously Absent at ECOS Spring Meeting

March 27, 2012

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.

Governors Reassert Influence in the NGA Policy Process

March 1, 2012

By Stateside Associates

At the National Governors Association (NGA) Winter Meeting this past weekend in Washington, DC, a major focus for the governors was the revamping of the association’s policy process. In adopting a new policy process, NGA Chair Governor Dave Heineman (R-Nebraska) and Vice Chair Governor Jack Markell (D-Delaware) addressed the need to have governors more directly involved in NGA policy decisions. This idea was immediately put to the test during consideration of the NGA healthcare policy.

Traditionally, NGA policymaking has been a long, drawn-out process. Instead of focusing on the issues that states could speak with a unified voice, geographic and partisan gamesmanship and exhaustive wordsmithing at the governors’ staff level commonly hindered overall association progress. NGA staff was often in a cycle of policy revision, unable to concentrate on being the voice of the nation’s governors on Capitol Hill and before the Administration.

Under the newly enacted process, policies are only considered at the Winter Meeting. This focuses attention on priorities for the following congressional session. (A more detailed description of the new NGA policy process, by Stateside Associates Senior Vice President Mark Anderson, can be found here). The change moves away from the inefficient or outdated policies, which made it challenging for the association to consider complex issues and tied governors’ and NGA staff’s hands when advocating for or against an issue.

This newly implemented process takes a big-picture approach—it focuses on the NGA tenets of avoiding federal preemption of state policy and preventing and eliminating unfunded federal mandates. If successful, the change will give NGA more leverage in national policy debates. In addition to revising the process, governors approved a completely new slate of policy positions. A second vote replaced the existing positions with the new ones. Together, these votes gave NGA staff a clean slate on which to lobby.

The governors’ resolve to speak with one voice and avoid inside the beltway wrangling was immediately tested during the meeting on the new NGA healthcare policy. The policy was originally considered by the Health and Human Services Committee, but failed at the governors’ staff level because of partisan disagreement (the conflict hinged on a statement regarding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act).

Under the old process, this would have either led to the governors passing a weaker statement on healthcare; keeping less effective policies in place; or even worse, having no statement at all. However, governors realized the need to make a strong, unified statement on healthcare policy, and decided to override staff and approve the policy as originally written. This is the first time in recent memory governors have shown such strength of conviction in coming to a unified policy statement.

Governors realize the need to cut the geographic and partisan gamesmanship at a staff level and focus on the issues on which they can agree. While this may make it challenging to work through the new process, all participants in NGA policy creation will learn to navigate it together. When the dust from the shake-up settles, NGA will emerge stronger and with a much clearer direction.