State air regulators who split from the National Association of Clean Air Agencies two years ago over the 34-year-old nonprofit's positions supporting federal emission rules have their breakaway group up and running.
The new Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies (AAPCA) now has an executive director and is hosting meetings, organizing committees and assembling comments for its members on U.S. EPA's landmark proposal for curbing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
AAPCA has "the advantages of being the nonincumbent," Executive Director Clint Woods said in an interview at a Washington, D.C., coffee shop last month.
"I think being kind of new to the scene and being driven by exactly what our members want us to do allows us to not necessarily reinvent the wheel but think about how we can do things better, make better use of our time and be a little bit more nimble on some of these specific issues," said Woods, a former Hill staffer and conservative advocate.
AAPCA is the brainchild of former Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally, who argued in 2012 that the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, or NACAA -- which represents nearly all air agencies -- was lobbying EPA and Congress and taking positions in favor of climate regulations against the consensus of its members (Greenwire, Jan. 23, 2013).
But the split in NACAA began in the mid-2000s when Texas fled.
"We just felt like our viewpoints weren't being represented the way we thought they should have been," said Steve Hagle, deputy director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's air office. "The reason we decided to join with Ohio and the other states is that there are a lot of benefits to an organization like NACAA, being able to share the ideas and thoughts and having access to EPA staff to give us updates on rules and guidance."
So AAPCA's birth was announced in January 2013. It has 17 state members, including six -- Ohio, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, North Dakota and Texas -- that have left NACAA. Eleven states decided to join but retain NACAA memberships: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
To help the group get started, Battelle Memorial Institute managed AAPCA under contract until Woods came aboard last year from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, where he was a Republican staffer since 2011 specializing in environmental policy and issues related to EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA Earth Science.
Before his Hill stint, Woods directed the energy, environment and agriculture task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has been behind state-level opposition to EPA regulations and has recently experienced an exodus of tech companies because of its position on climate change. He also served as lobbyist for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.
Woods is based at AAPCA's headquarters in Lexington, Ky., near the Kentucky Horse Park. When not at work, he enjoys spending time with his greyhound and taking advantage of the "great horse racing, great live music and bluegrass" in the Bluegrass State. Does he miss anything about Washington? "They don't have a bocce league -- it's the only thing I miss about D.C.," he said.
Woods said he hopes to leverage some of the experience working with state legislatures that he gained at ALEC. "Environmental agencies are funded by their state legislatures, so there's a natural give-and-take and figuring out where you want to be, what your options are, as you're developing state plans or choosing particular options," he said.
AAPCA's mission is to focus on technical issues around local implementations of the Clean Air Act, Woods said. Decisions by the group are made by consensus of the state members.
"It means we may not necessarily be taking a position on every regulation, every piece of legislation that deals with the Clean Air Act," Woods said. "But when we do, it's powerful, and I think it enables us to really home in on the issues where we can be helpful."
AAPCA states have expressed concern with EPA's recent proposed regulations for stemming carbon dioxide from existing power plants, and several of their attorneys general have filed suit against the proposal. But AAPCA didn't take an overall position on the proposed rules.
In fact, Woods said EPA should get "great credit" for its outreach to state governments throughout the public comment period.
"Hopefully, the state issues that were raised during our calls and our comments will be reflected in the final rule," he said.
'We're not lobbying'
Woods is currently AAPCA's only full-time employee.
According to Woods, AAPCA is funded by state and local membership fees that are based on population and other factors, as well as meeting fees. The annual budget is "well under $500,000 at this point."
NACAA, on the other hand, brought in revenue of about $1.75 million, according to the IRS 990 form it filed for 2012. Of that, about $200,000 represented dues and $85,000 registration fees; another $1.46 million came from government grants and contributions. NACAA Executive Director Bill Becker said the departure of AAPCA states did not put a dent in the organization's activities.
AAPCA rents its Lexington office space from the nonpartisan Council of State Governments, whose members include state legislatures, courts and executive officials. Under the agreement with the council, AAPCA can make use of council resources -- including meeting planners and lawyers -- in any of the council's offices around the country.
Typical work for AAPCA includes helping coordinate calls between state regulatory agencies and EPA, organizing meetings, and providing assistance with comments on major Clean Air Act rules.
Woods said he wasn't sure yet whether the group would take a position on where EPA should set the ozone standard in its current review; in November, the agency proposed to tighten the standard from 75 parts per billion to between 65 and 70 ppb.
One area in which AAPCA is considering taking a more active role is in potential reform of EPA's scientific advisory board. States are hoping for greater participation sooner in the regulatory process, he said.
He said he expected AAPCA to grow in 2015, both in terms of state members and local agencies. The group's primary focus remains on EPA, rather than on Capitol Hill, Woods said.
"We're not lobbying, and I don't foresee us necessarily taking any perspective on any particular piece of legislation," he said.
Still, AAPCA has had some engagement with Capitol Hill. Last May, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), then-ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a vocal opponent of tightening the federal ozone standard, led a letter by GOP senators to AAPCA asking its members to weigh in on the transparency in science behind EPA's review of the standard.
"No, the process is not open or transparent," AAPCA member Louisiana wrote back to the senators, going on to warn that industries in the state "would have to install costly controls" in order to comply with the tighter standard EPA is currently considering.
Vitter then highlighted the responses later in the year when he held two field briefings in his home state that focused on the costs of the standard.
NACAA 'not apologetic'
Given the public statements in opposition to various EPA regulations, pro-NACAA critics charge that AAPCA is little more than a cover for fossil fuel interests.
Environmentalists have characterized efforts to reform EPA's scientific review process as thinly veiled attempts to discredit agency science. "Privately, we refer to AAPCA as the National Association of Dirty Air Agencies," said Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. "It was spawned by fossil fuel interests opposed to the progressive aims of NACAA."
O'Donnell highlighted claims by Nally, the former Ohio EPA chief who now works for Columbus-based Quasar Energy, opposing NACAA's views on climate change. NACAA supported the failed 2009 legislation that would have created a national cap-and-trade program.
NACAA chief Becker said he doesn't regret that positions taken by his group drove away some members.
"They felt we had advocated a bit too aggressively to clean up the air, and we're not apologetic for anything we said in the past or we do in the future if it means that we're going to try and clean up the air in the most cost-effective way," he said in a phone interview.
Becker is quick to point out that NACAA's membership far surpasses that of AAPCA. Forty-one states and 116 local agencies -- all of the nation's local agencies engaged in air pollution control except for California's San Joaquin County -- are members.
NACAA is "stronger than any other association, environmental or other, that exists," Becker said.
Woods, though, argues that AAPCA's 17 states protect that air quality for roughly 40 percent of the U.S. population and generate about 50 percent of U.S. electricity production.
Neither Becker nor Woods said he held any bad will toward the other.
Becker said he was supportive of AAPCA and willing to work together with the group. NACAA and AAPCA, for example, organized a series of webinars on specific aspects of EPA's carbon dioxide rule proposal.
Woods said the relationship between the two groups has been "very positive."
"There's been nothing but collaboration on my end," Woods said, "and I think there's enough public dynamic regulation environment that there's plenty of issues and plenty of approaches for various associations."
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the 2012 revenue of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.