If the administration is going to strip away some red tape, as President Obama said when he penned an executive order telling federal agencies to get rid of ineffective and outdated regulations, one group of top state officials has 33 good places for U.S. EPA to start.
The executive order, which was signed in January, asked the members of the public to air their grievances. So far, EPA alone has received nearly 1,500 comments on its rules, which have been placed under a microscope on Capitol Hill as Republicans have advanced the argument that regulations are the reason the economy has been slow to recover from the woes that began when the financial sector nearly collapsed three years ago.
Joining the fray yesterday was the Environmental Council of the States, or ECOS, an influential group that represents the secretaries of state environmental agencies. Under the nation's environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, these officials run more than 95 percent of the programs and take about 90 percent of the enforcement actions, making them intimately familiar with the rules.
For these officials, life isn't getting any easier, said Steven Brown, the group's executive director, in a statement yesterday. Their budgets are getting smaller, mainly because of deficits at the state level, and yet, the stacks of paperwork that explain the assignments from Washington, D.C., are only getting bigger.
"Where environmental benefits accrue from continuing to implement federal rules, the states are fully supportive," Brown said. "But where regulations are duplicative, unnecessarily burdensome, and process-driven ... EPA needs to repair these rules."
The group's comments raise concerns about the substance of EPA rules, such the State Implementation Plan (SIP) process that is used to achieve the air quality standards in the Clean Air Act. ECOS, along with EPA and the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA), is coming up with recommendations for reforming the process.
But the comments also focus heavily on the hoops that states must jump through to implement EPA rules.
Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, for instance, state agencies are required to hold a public meeting before changing a hazardous waste permit, even if no one has asked to comment on it. People rarely show up to the meetings, and when they do, it is usually contractors looking for work, the comments say.
And for both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, there are EPA regulations requiring agencies to put a notice in the local newspaper before approving a new permit. It costs more than $350 to publish the most common types of notices under the Clean Air Act, adding up to about $5,000 or $10,000 per year for a state agency.
ECOS claims that the Internet has made this requirement pointless. Hardly anyone ever responds to the newspaper notices, anyway.
"Most newspaper companies print these notices in the legal section of the newspaper for one single day," the group's comments say. "Most citizens that subscribe to newspapers do not read this section."
EPA took comments earlier this year on its review of existing regulations, saying a draft plan will be released in late May or early June.
Administrator Lisa Jackson has pledged to get rid of unnecessary rules. She made that point earlier this month, when the agency finalized a rule exempting milk storage tanks from the need to prepare plans for the event of a spill (E&ENews PM, April 12).
The spilled milk rule was also called out by Cass Sunstein, who leads the review of new regulations as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He said the exemption, which will spare dairy farmers and other companies from spending more than $140 million each year, was "another example of how regulatory reform eliminates unnecessary costs for Americans."
"Stay tuned," Sunstein wrote on the White House blog. "Much more is on the way."
Click here to read ECOS's comments on EPA rules .
Click here to read ECOS's comments on EPA's review plan.