Saturday, January 9, 2021

Council Of State Environmental Agencies, State Agency Alumni Outline Priorities To Incoming Biden Administration

In late December,
Environmental Council of the States President Patrick McDonnell of Pennsylvania sent a letter on behalf of ECOS to the incoming Biden Administration U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Review Team to highlight top policy issues and current challenges. 

A group of 41 ECOS alumni sent a December 21 memorandum to EPA Administrator-Select Michael Regan and the transition team outlining ideas for building a "better, more effective and sustainable" EPA-state partnership.

ECOS Priorities

“As the country transitions to a new federal administration led by President Joe Biden, ECOS stands ready to strengthen the state-federal partnership upon which our mutual success depends, McDonnell writes. “We recommit to a constructive relationship with EPA and our other federal partners to promote the most effective and efficient accomplishment of our shared goals.”

Fundamental policy issues identified in the letter are--

-- Federal Financial Support For Program Implementation: With the federal contribution remaining flat, or declining in real terms, states have struggled to meet these obligations and to keep up with new threats to public health and the environment. Economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic are already being felt by most states, and further impacts are anticipated. Reduced general revenues in the states, and particularly reduced revenue from permit fees, will compound the challenge for state environmental agency leaders. Furthermore, environmental permitting and oversight is a key component of rebuilding the economy. 

-- Water Infrastructure Investment: Replacing and modernizing our nation’s aging drinking water and wastewater infrastructure continues to be a critical need in protecting public health and the environment.  Recent assessments indicate a need for infrastructure investments of more than $271 billion for wastewater and more than $472 billion for drinking water.  

-- State-Federal Implementation: States and EPA Regions have negotiated innovative alternative strategies to meet program performance obligations in ways that were more efficient and/or more effectively addressed state-specific conditions. ECOS and the EPA should cooperate to catalogue these innovations and make them available in other states, regions, and programs where they might also apply. 

-- Modernized Delivery Of Environmental Protection Through Initiatives Like E-Enterprise For The Environment: New technologies have dramatically transformed the way that society functions and the way in which we live our daily lives. States and EPA can harness these technologies to enable smarter, faster, and more effective environmental protection. Truly transformative improvements are only possible with close collaboration across the diverse partners who share responsibility for human health and the environment. States and EPA need committed leadership and cooperation from every quarter to spark and manage this change. 

-- Measurement And Communication Of Environmental Results: The effective management of environmental programs, as well as the public’s trust and confidence in the state-federal environmental system, rests on our ability to measure and communicate tangible environmental results.  ECOS Results is a suite of common measures for states to report and explain their progress toward environmental outcomes. This tool serves not only to enhance public understanding, but also provides Congress and stakeholders with straightforward and easily accessible measures to better understand progress. The states and the federal government must continue the commitment to measuring results and communicating them clearly. 

In addition, ECOS cites the following current challenges--  

-- PFAS And Emerging Contaminants: New chemicals of concern, which may have previously been unregulated, present a significant challenge to the nation’s environmental protection system. PFAS, a group of chemicals often called “forever” chemicals due to their persistence in the environment, are one major example of this type of threat to public health and the environment.  The research capacity of the federal government is an indispensable tool in setting standards and in developing long-term remedies. The existence of particular areas with significant levels of contamination often prompts states to seek to move forward with their own regulations in advance of federal standards. 

-- Diversity And Environmental Justice: States feel strongly that our national environmental protection system must provide equal protection to all communities. States have been working to ensure that all communities have access to environmental data and other information that allow them to participate effectively in evaluating choices and decisions that affect their lives and neighborhoods. EPA can help states in working to meet these challenges through support for improved monitoring, mapping, and toxicological information that will help us better understand impacts in all communities

-- Risk Communication: Accurately characterizing environmental risks and communicating them clearly is critical to assuring the public that they are being effectively protected. The availability of many sources of information, including environmental data of differing levels of quality through social media and other internet platforms, places greater emphasis on the need to provide answers promptly and accurately. Rapid response teams comprised of state and federal experts with site-specific messages would increase our capacity to meet this need and to improve the public’s understanding of risks. 

--Emergency Preparedness And Response: More than just preparedness and response, our national system must recognize and take advantage of opportunities to make our infrastructure more resilient. We need to improve the resilience of infrastructure to cope with increased pressures, whether they come from changing land use patterns, local and regional circumstances, or weather and climate impacts. Regulatory barriers or administrative requirements that impede effective responses or prevent more resilient infrastructure choices must be removed.

“Overcoming the environmental challenges that we face, whether long-standing or more recently encountered, will require vision, innovation, and flexibility on the part of all of the partners in our shared national environmental protection system,” said McDonnell. “We cannot hope to achieve the goals that we envision and that the American people deserve without adequate and sustainable funding. We must continue to improve our working partnership to remove pointless friction and wasteful duplication of effort.

“At this unique time in our history, the pandemic we are fighting seems destined to spur long-lasting changes in how we live our lives and how we conduct business,” McDonnell notes. “Our environmental protection system will likely have to adapt to new patterns of interaction and changed systems for obtaining public input, inspecting regulated sources, and engaging our partners. 

“We will need to consider the organization of environmental agencies and determine how best to deliver environmental results in this new setting. While these organizational issues may add to our shared list of challenges, adjusting old patterns may present opportunities to overcome some old problems.”

Click Here for a copy of the letter.

EPA-State Partnership

A group of 41 ECOS alumni sent a December 21 memorandum to EPA Administrator-Select Michael Regan and the transition team outlining ideas for building a "better, more effective and sustainable" EPA-state partnership.

“As former leaders of state environmental, health, and natural resource protection departments, we have worked for Republican, Democratic and Independent Governors and have represented virtually every geographic area of our country.

“Collectively, we have hundreds of years of experience working in the public health and environmental protection areana and believe this experience can be of value to you.

“All people need clear air, clean water, productive lands and safe communities.  We are confident that our recommendations and suggestions can assist you in meeting the demands of the 21st Century and provide the public with the security of knowing federal and state regulators, as well as tribal and local regulators, are working together to attain a health, clean environment in harmony with sustainable development and social justice.”

Among the recommendations are--

-- E-Enterprise for the Environment: Provide leadership support for the E-Enterprise for the Environment initiative to achieve its objectives--

     -- Improving environmental protection by enhancing program performance, streamlining and modernizing environmental programs, and deploying advanced technologies.

     -- Enhancing services to stakeholders by reducing transaction costs and burdens and improving the transparency of environmental conditions and performance.

     -- Operating as a transformative model of shared governance, in which the partnering environmental agencies jointly identify priorities, define and solve problems, and implement and improve regulatory programs.  EPA, states, and tribes share common goals aimed at protecting the environment.

-- Pursuing Budget Stability & Flexible Funding: EPA and state program funding has been stagnant at best or shrinking at worst.  New and complex challenges have emerged that require substantial funding from Congress and action by EPA and the states.  It is imperative that EPA and the states have adequate resources to work collaboratively with governments, business and the public alike on carbon emission reductions and adaptation programs.

-- Integrating Social Justice and Equity Into All Environmental Programs: We are far beyond the time of assuring that environmental and public health programs are inclusive and protective of the health and well-being of all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity or income level.  We encourage EPA to engage states and tribes in developing a robust Social and Environmental Justice Program with a goal of ensuring all Americans the full benefit of environmental and public health protection.

-- Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure: The consequences of our nation’s failure to provide safe drinking water or adequately treated wastewater are catastrophic. We strongly recommend EPA work closely with the states and local governments to develop a grand and loan program that addresses this extraordinary need.

-- Restoring the Primacy of Science and Scientific Integrity: The importance of science and scientific integrity within EPA decision making is imperative.  In the last four years, reliance on science within EPA has been significantly diminished.  We know EPA, and by extension the states, needs to regain the public’s trust and reassure the public that science is the foundation for all important environmental and public health decisions.

-- Collaborative Rule Making: We recommend that the pre-rulemaking and rulemaking phases be reimagined to allow early and meaningful consultation and collaboration with the states as substantive partners in the EPA regulation setting process.

Click Here for a copy of the memorandum.

For more information about state environmental agencies, visit the Environmental Council of the States website.

ECOS is the national nonprofit, nonpartisan association of state and territorial environmental agency leaders. The purpose of ECOS is to improve the capability of state environmental agencies and their leaders to protect and improve human health and the environment of the United States of America.

[Posted: January 9, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

No comments :

Post a Comment

Subscribe To Receive Updates:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner