GOP hears mixed reviews from state regulators on EPA, Clean Air Act
Written byJEAN CHEMNICK, E&E
Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee met yesterday with state air quality regulators about their experiences working with U.S. EPA and how to improve that relationship.
The forum was chaired by Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and was attended by Republicans only. But it drew regulators from blue states including California and Delaware as well as more conservative states like Texas and Arizona.
The regulators gave EPA mixed reviews.
John Paul, director of the Dayton Regional Air Pollution Control Agency, voiced a strong defense of the Obama administration EPA.
"I realize that the EPA gets a lot of criticism," he said. "But I've worked for 40 years [in the regulatory arena], and this is one of the best EPAs."
He said he found agency officials to be "approachable," "responsive" and "trustworthy."
But Susana Hildebrand, chief engineer of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said her agency had experienced a very different EPA than that one under former Region 9 Administrator Al Armendariz, who at times had refused even to meet with state authorities, she said.
Henry Darwin, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, said his agency had found EPA to be a good partner up until it refused the state agency a seat at the table when working to reach a settlement with emitters on a regional haze rule.
The regulators also had different views on the Clean Air Act, which Whitfield hopes to amend in the next Congress.
The chairman has said that one of the tweaks he would like to make to the landmark environmental law involves the way it directs EPA to take into account the cost of a rule.
Paul said the agency already can take into account the costs of implementing a standard and that he hopes Congress will not pass legislation requiring the agency to set standards that are not sufficient to safeguard public health.
"I know that you're hearing from people that the cost of complying with those standards is becoming expensive," he said. "My main concern is that the cost would be considered in setting the standards themselves and that the public would think it was protective of public health when it's not."
Several regulators noted that EPA is chronically behind in approving state implementation plans (SIPs) for the Clean Air Act, and Whitfield asked whether the current statutory requirement that the agency revisit rules every five years gives the agency enough time to keep up with its workload. He suggested that rules be revised every 10 years instead.
"We do think a longer time frame would be appropriate," Hildebrand said.
But Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said rules often have to be revised and changed because EPA has set its standard at a level above what is needed to safeguard public health, requiring a subsequent administration to set it lower.
EPA's SIP backlog creates a number of problems for state regulators, Hildebrand said. While the agency is required by statute to process SIP proposals in 18 months, it rarely meets that deadline. But nothing prevents the agency from invalidating permits issued under those SIPs even years later, creating great uncertainty for regulated entities, she said. She suggested that Congress require EPA to process a SIP within the allotted time or lose the right to disapprove it.
Collin O'Mara, secretary for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said he routinely hears from industry that "the predictability is worth more to them than the stringency of the standards."
Congress and regulators could save industry money and safeguard public health while reducing litigation by simply coordinating standards to come out at the same time, rather than hitting the same industry with a steady stream of different rules for different emissions categories, O'Mara said.
This "multiple-pollutant" solution was proposed in several Congresses by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), he noted.
He called his senior senator's three "P's" legislation "an approach that had the potential to drive cost-effective change."