By Mark D. Anderson, Esq., Co-Chief Executive Officer & Principal
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy pledged to ECOS last fall that she will “listen to the states” during her tenure at the agency’s helm. If actions speak louder than words, McCarthy underscored this message by sending 30 EPA regional and headquarters staffers to the Spring 2014 Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) meeting held March 31-April 2 at the Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito, California. McCarthy’s EPA, in an unprecedented move, also co-sponsored the meeting.
The current commitment of McCarthy’s EPA to ECOS surpasses anything we have witnessed since we began attending ECOS meetings in 1996. As recently as 2012, EPA was all but absent at ECOS meetings, leaving state environmental regulators feeling marginalized by the federal agency and its previous administrators. Despite McCarthy’s promise last fall, EPA’s suddenly stepped-up engagement with ECOS left some states speculating that EPA was only present to promote the federal position on two new and controversial rulemakings, both Obama Administration priorities.
The federal agency recently sent its Clean Air Act 111d rule on carbon pollution standards for existing power plants to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for pre-publication review. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers also just jointly promulgated a draft rule on the definition of the Waters of the United States, a Clean Water Act rulemaking necessitated by a string of US Supreme Court cases that started with Rappanos v. United States (2006).
These two rulemakings are poised to reshape not only American environmental policy, but perhaps energy and land development policy as well. Given their significance, it is unsurprising that a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including many states, have loudly criticized both of these rules. The EPA did not reveal much about the new Clean Air Act 111d rulemaking at ECOS, but a large number of states fear the rule may result in the shuttering of numerous existing coal-fired utilities, resulting in job losses and energy cost spikes. The Waters of the United States rule, as drafted, has the potential to assert EPA jurisdiction over waters previously thought to be outside of federal regulatory authority. This rulemaking has serious implications for state water programs and land development.
At the Spring ECOS meeting, EPA staff held closed-door meetings with state regulators to discuss both of these rulemakings. The only clear outcome from these meetings is that EPA is determined to move forward with controversial aspects of both rulemakings, despite questions and concerns from several states. During the closed-door Clean Air Act 111d meeting, the EPA told states they will not use a state implementation plan (SIP) process to implement the forthcoming existing source rule, leaving states to wonder what mechanism EPA will use to enforce the rules. Interestingly, while EPA staff did discuss some details of the new 111d rule at this meeting, they did not mention to the states that the rule was complete and about to be sent to OMB that afternoon.
The limited public discussion on these important rulemakings at the conference was as unusual as EPA’s ramped-up involvement. Frank discussion of federal rulemakings in public sessions is an ECOS tradition. This time, however, the Air committee skipped over a scheduled 111d item on its public meeting agenda. There was also only one significant mention of the important water rulemaking during public sessions. EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Persciape told a public session that the new Waters of the United States rule “won’t be a big change” in actual EPA policy.
EPA staff made clear their interest in reaching out to state officials at ECOS last week. The question is why. Many states quietly expressed doubt that this new dialogue will actually shape EPA policy. States welcomed this EPA engagement, but it remains to be seen whether EPA is working toward true collaborative dialogue or merely using this opportunity to inform itself about the coming opposition from some states. States will therefore be watching closely to see if EPA continues its ECOS engagement when these significant Air and Water rulemakings conclude. States will also notice if EPA listened to their concerns when the agency rolls out 111d new source final rule and the 111d existing source proposed rule later this year. If EPA has listened, it will be obvious, and a new era of state and federal collaboration will start on solid ground.