Monday, April 02, 2012

States Question Federal Commitment To Environmental Protection

Mar 26: A release from the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) indicates that upcoming budget cuts have state environmental agency leaders concerned about the commitment of the Federal government to environmental protection. Gathered March 19-21 at the ECOS Spring Meeting in Austin, Texas, leaders of 41 state and territorial environmental agencies discussed the likely impacts of "unliquidated obligations" (ULO, or obligated but unexpended state grant dollars), "budget sequestration," and other budget tricks likely to yield the largest reductions ever in U.S. EPA funding. 
    Steve Brown, ECOS Executive Director said, "The latest budget trick is to appropriate money and then rescind it before it is even distributed to the states and local governments. Even worse, Congress is considering taking back money already awarded to local governments, which will force them to break contracts with construction firms and lose jobs."

    ECOS members stressed that state grants from the nonpoint source program and clean water and drinking water State Revolving Loan Funds -- grants with the largest ULO balances -- assist all communities and are vital for improving their water quality and infrastructure. States understand the need to be diligent in spending funds but emphasized that it often takes three to five years to execute construction projects and other water quality improvements following the obligation of grant dollars.
    States also expressed concern about an automatic 8.8% federal budget "sequestration" (cut) slated for January 2, 2013, that could result in the lowest EPA budget in decades. Most likely to be affected: funds used to build drinking water plants and sewers. Also expected to be impacted are the budgets for protection of air and water bodies and management of hazardous waste. Brown said, "It's not just Congress -- even EPA is proposing cuts to eliminate safe beaches and radon protection." 

    In a separate session on enforcement and compliance issues with leadership of EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), ECOS members touched on several issues. EPA officials shared with states their vision of Next Generation compliance, with states expressing interest in collaborating with EPA on innovative ideas related to enforcement and compliance. After hearing about OECA's plans for disinvestments in FY13, states requested similar flexibility from EPA in light of continuing budget challenges.
   States adopted several resolutions at the Spring Meeting, including two major policy positions on greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. The first resolution calls on Congress and the Obama Administration to address, in cooperation with states, how best to achieve substantial GHG reductions over the next several decades. Noting the challenges of achieving significant cuts, ECOS urges Federal lawmakers and the Obama Administration to provide one or more scenarios that will produce an 80 percent reduction in GHG emissions nationally, from a 2005 baseline, in 2050 or beyond. The resolution also seeks an analysis, with a national and regional scope, of the costs and benefits associated with each scenario, as well as an analysis of the costs and benefits of a no-action alternative. A second resolution on the matter is designed to protect the states' rights in regulating GHG emissions in the face of any Federal legislative or regulatory action.

    In other resolutions, ECOS members adopted a statement recognizing that innovative approaches hold great promise for building upon environmental successes and are often necessary to address the nation's most pervasive environmental problems. States noted that innovation can supplement traditional regulatory approaches to achieve Federal and state environmental and public health goals, including those outside the purview of traditional regulatory systems, by testing new approaches and integrating stewardship and sustainability initiatives. ECOS also updated its resolution on federalism, noting, among other things, that meaningful, timely, and substantial involvement of the states, as partners with EPA, is critical to the development and implementation of environmental programs, budgets, rules, guidance, and interpretation of federal regulations. The states adopted a number of resolutions including the following:
  • Concerning Environmental Enforcement Training for State and Local Environmental Regulators
  • On Innovative Approaches to Protecting Human Health and the Environment
  • State/EPA Commitment to the Full Implementation of the National Environmental Information Exchange Network
  • On Coordination with the National Governors' Association
  • On Environmental Federalism
  • Endorsement of the National Mercury Switch Recovery Program Memorandum of Agreement that Reduces Mercury in the Environment and Provides Flexibility to the States
  • Clarification of CERCLA Sovereign Immunity Waiver for Federal Facilities
  • Mercury Reduction, Stewardship, and Retirement
  • Challenges of Achieving Significant Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Reductions
  • Preserving States' Rights to Regulate Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Principles of Product Stewardship
  • Supporting Work on Contaminated Site Response to Emerging Contaminants and Related Risk Communication Issues 
    Access a release from ECOS (click here). Access the Executive Director's presentation at the Spring Meeting (click here). Access links to the full text of the resolutions passed at the meeting (click here). Access the ECOS website for more information (click here). [#All]
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