By Mark D. Anderson, Esq., Co-Chief Executive Officer & Principal
Greenhouse gas emissions and carbon pollution control created a heated atmosphere at last week’s 2013 Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) annual meeting. Climate change drove the agenda from the start to finish.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy’s luncheon keynote remarks focused on the EPA’s commitment to implement President Obama’s recently unveiled climate policy. McCarthy pledged that EPA will meet individually with each state to develop their own greenhouse gas strategy. She praised the states for already identifying carbon pollution solutions, “that are practical and achievable.” McCarthy further promised the ECOS delegates that, “There is flexibility under the law to allow states to design cost effective solutions.” But, McCarthy hinted at ever-expanding EPA authority when she mentioned using Clean Water Act jurisdiction to address climate change.
State leaders expressed skepticism toward McCarthy’s promise to give states any control when it comes to regulating greenhouse gas emissions. “It was great hearing the new Administrator talk about relying on sound science and working with the states to develop policy and enforcement. I just hope it really happens,” commented Virginia Natural Resources Secretary, Doug Domenech.
At Tuesday morning’s ECOS air subcommittee meeting delegates deliberated over a controversial resolution on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. The resolution sets forth a position of the states on EPA’s pending regulations governing carbon pollution from existing power plants.
Several states vehemently opposed the resolution, fearing that EPA will view an ECOS resolution on the matter as a collective state endorsement of EPA’s divisive carbon pollution control agenda. Bryan Shaw of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality stated that EPA has “repeatedly denied and ignored,” input from his state on climate policy. Potential inclusion of references to state and regional emission trading programs were a key controversy. A North Dakota official remarked that “just mentioning” such programs could be interpreted by EPA as an endorsement, even though many states oppose such cap and trade programs for carbon emissions.
After contentious deliberations, the states were unable to reach an agreement on compromise language. They voted to table the greenhouse gas resolution. Later in the day, ECOS members reconvened the discussion and opted to continue the deliberation via e-mail. Commissioners are now expected to vote on an amended greenhouse gas resolution later in September.
The delegates enjoyed a respite from the climate change debate during sessions on hazardous waste and Toxic Substances Control Act reform (TSCA). The recent National Academy of Sciences report, Alternatives for Managing the Nation’s Complex Contaminated Groundwater Sites, provided a starting point for the hazardous waste discussion. Representatives from states, and the federal government, discussed moving from active remediation to passive strategies at complex hazardous waste sites. The consensus of the group was that scarce financial resources should only be invested in clean-up strategies that make a meaningful difference. TSCA reform was on everyone’s mind, including McCarthy, who stated TSCA is a, “broken statute that needs to be fixed.” Broad pre-emption language in the TSCA reform presently bill before Congress, however, concerned many of the delegates and speakers.
For the first time, ECOS held a natural resources discussion immediately following the annual meeting. Climate change adaptation and hydraulic fracturing were the major topics. Nathan Richardson of Resources for the Future shared his research on the effectiveness of state regulation of hydraulic fracturing. Richardson reported that the states with the most fracked wells have the most comprehensive regulations. The effects of climate change on water resources, however, was the center of attention. Ben Grumbles, former EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, expressed the theme of the afternoon saying, “Climate change is water change. Adaptation will be about managing water quantity and water scarcity.”
The ECOS member divide over the appropriate state response to EPA’s bold climate agenda is wide, and in some cases, stark. Conference attendees looking forward to the spring ECOS meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, expect this subject to continue to be both prominent and contentious at future meetings.