Friday, February 15, 2013

House Hearing On States Role In Environmental Protection

Feb 15: The House Energy & Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, Chaired by Representative John Shimkus (R-IL), kicked off its agenda for the 113th Congress with a hearing on "The Role of the States in Protecting the Environment Under Current Law." Witnesses featured representatives from state offices that oversee groundwater, drinking water, oil and gas, and solid and hazardous wastes. While speaking from their state perspectives, the witnesses also represented major associations including: the Environmental Council of the States; the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators; the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials; the Ground Water Protection Council; the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission; the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators; and the National League of Cities.
    Chairman Shimkus convened the hearing to highlight the role state officials play in protecting the environment and public health under several of the Federal laws in the subcommittee's jurisdiction, including the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).
    Chairman Shimkus said, "This hearing will help raise awareness and set the stage for future discussions we are going to have on environmental protection. Many of us get caught up with what the U.S. EPA thinks or what it can do and fail to focus on the states and what they can and must do. The states are by no means 'junior regulators' or the minor leagues of environmental protection. Rather, their plate is twice as full. To carry out federal environmental law, states have a lot of delegated authority. But states also have their own protective laws. Often, beyond anything the federal government has asked."
    The witnesses described their first-hand experiences as state and local regulators and highlighted the work states are already doing under existing law to protect the environment. Some testimony included for example: Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Director Teresa Marks, testifying on behalf of the Environmental Council of States, noted, "State agencies conduct over 90 percent of the environmental inspections, enforcement, and environmental data collection, and issue a similar amount of all the environmental permits." She explained that in many instances, due to proximity and expert understanding of localities, states are better equipped to conduct effective regulation, saying, "The states, having more familiarity with their regulated industries and being located in closer proximity thereto, generally provide timelier compliance assistance and response to citizen concerns and complaints."
    Representing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, and also the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, Harold Fitch explained that states often have greater flexibility in implementing regulations, stating, "Our regulatory structures are adaptable in addressing new technologies and new concerns, and they yield consistent results tailored to our specific needs and priorities."  Describing the success state regulators have had in protecting the environment, Fitch highlighted Michigan's oversight of hydraulic fracturing and said, "Hydraulic fracturing was first used in Michigan in 1952. Since then, we have had over 12,000 wells hydraulically fractured and there have been no instances of environmental contamination related to the practice."
    Chairman Shimkus described another example where the states have demonstrated strong regulatory leadership -- Maryland's management of coal ash within its state. He said, "The state did not sit by powerless. Rather, in December 2008 the Maryland Department of the Environment issued one of the more robust sets of coal ash rules in the country. Maryland is not the only state, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have demonstrated strong programs that are serious, flexible, and successful." Full Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), added, "It is important to understand the important role states play in protecting the environment. One thing we already know is that Washington does not always know best."
    Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) explained in an opening statement that the state-Federal model includes EPA setting minimum standards that states can exceed if they so choose. Implementation can be delegated to states on a showing that they have requirements in place that are at least as stringent as the federal floor. He said, "As we will hear from the panel, this model has worked. States have received delegation for over 96% of the environmental programs that can be delegated." He pointed out that, "Despite these successes, there have been recent proposals to abandon the proven models and abdicate responsibilities to the states. One of the most immediate examples is the coal ash legislation from last Congress."
    Rep. Waxman also highlighted, "As we hear from state regulators about the good work they are doing, we should be mindful of the serious threat the sequester and the Republican budget pose to this proven model of environmental protection. Without federal technical assistance and funding, states may be unable to maintain their delegated programs. If the programs are handed back to EPA, EPA may not have the resources to take on this added implementation. . . According to EPA, if sequestration goes into effect, there will be nearly 300 fewer cleanups under the leaking underground storage tank program. There could be a 1,000 fewer inspections to protect communities from toxic air pollution and other pollution that can cause illnesses and death. And essential services to industry like EPA's certification of auto engines for emissions standards could be curtailed."
    Access a Republican release on the hearing (click here). Access the Republican website for the hearing with a background memo, opening statements, and witness testimony (click here). Access the Democratic website for the hearing with an opening statement, testimony and a webcast (click here). [#All, #MIAll]
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