States are watching the Trump administration’s revamping of EPA’s mission with either hope or trepidation or with a combination of both. Scott Pruitt, EPA’s administrator in the wings, has promised to pull back on the Agency’s dominating role in implementing federal environmental statutes and place more authority in the hands of the states, where, he says, Congress and the Constitution intend it to be. But many state programs, and water programs in particular, are highly dependent on federal funding, which is distributed by the EPA and is part of the Agency’s budget. Final Agency budgets are the work of both the president and Congress. While President Trump may seek to cut EPA spending, Congress may be reluctant to see those cuts hobble critical state programs.
Given the likelihood that significant changes are coming, the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) weighed in on funding and other aspects of the EPA-state relationship in a new paper, Priority Areas for a Time of Political Transition, 2016–2017.
“State-federal cooperative governance is critical to the success of both federal and state environmental programs,” says the ECOS. “A central goal in ECOS’ Strategic Plan (2016–2020) is proactive investment in a constructive relationship with federal agency partners, based on the principle of cooperative federalism. Strategic Goal 3 in that plan commits ECOS to reaching out to leadership during periods of political transition.”
Collaboration, Communication, Public Health
Accordingly, the transition paper identifies seven areas of importance during this time to “maintain and nurture sound state–federal relationships and programs, all with one goal: to advance the protection of human health and the environment.”
- Collaborating for maximum results. While recognizing the federal oversight role, the ECOS says the EPA should work with the states to ensure that states have the flexibility to use limited federal funds to address state priorities within broader federal guidelines.
- Advancing public health. The ECOS says that over time, environmental agencies appear to have forgotten the underlying reason for environmental regulation—to protect public health and the natural environment. “Distancing ourselves from this connection also means that resources may be directed toward regulations and policies that bear only a tenuous relationship to this core principle, further stressing our collective regulatory capacity,” says the ECOS. The conversation about the nexus between public health and the environment needs to continue to ensure that the environment is managed in ways that prevent negative public health consequences.
- Communicating results. Straightforward and easily accessible measures and metrics are needed to more effectively communicate to the public the true benefits and results associated with the implementation of federal and state environmental programs. The ECOS seeks continuation of a joint EPA-ECOS project to identify common state measures and visual ways to express them so that environmental outcomes are better understood and more meaningful to the general public.
- Funding. Nearly half of EPA’s congressionally appropriated annual budget flows through to the states and tribes to carry out federally delegated programs. States provide, on average, more than half—and in many states, up to three-quarters—of the funds to operate those programs. Core regulatory obligations remain, while new regulatory requirements are multiplying. “To ensure the long-term strength and viability of the joint EPA and state efforts to implement these programs, the federal government must support congressional funding of states to carry out their environmental responsibilities and ensure effective protection of human health and the environment,” says the ECOS.
- Water infrastructure. Through two statutory provisions, the EPA provides states with revolving loan funds to improve both drinking water and water bodies in general. This money has facilitated hundreds of wastewater, stormwater, green infrastructure, and drinking water infrastructure improvements, including reducing lead and toxic algae in drinking water. “The funding assistance provided to both small and large communities through this state–federal partnership has been instrumental in delivering safe and clean water for the American public,” says the ECOS. “The ‘revolving’ nature of the loan programs and states’ efforts to maximize federal capitalization grants assure a continuing return on federal investments.”
- E-Enterprise. In E-Enterprise for the Environment (E-Enterprise), the EPA, states, and tribes are collaborating and pursuing joint governance as a means to change the way environmental programs are implemented. E-Enterprise participants seek to streamline and modernize the implementation of environmental programs; foster greater trust among the regulated community, the public, and the government by improving data integrity and communication of accurate information; and enable more informed and timely decision making and better environmental results by improving the productivity of the environmental protection enterprise. “Continued federal support and funding of E-Enterprise, together with state support and resources, will facilitate ongoing efforts to proactively implement burden reduction efforts such as electronic permitting and electronic reporting systems,” says the ECOS.
- Energy and carbon. For over a decade, the nation has been engaged in a highly political and polarized conversation about carbon-based fuels, renewable energy, clean energy, and the related economic implications of shifting our energy portfolios. “A significant question has arisen around who should lead this conversation—and how federal and state goals can work together,” says the ECOS. “ECOS is committed to being a part of conversations that will inevitably continue regarding our nation’s carbon-considered future.”
The ECOS paper is here.