In a brief notice in the Federal Register (FR), the EPA announced the start-up of a new program to build cooperative relationships with industry, including the major regulated sectors.
Called the Smart Sectors Program, the initiative builds on the Agency’s Sector Strategies Program. Launched in 2003, the Sector Strategies Program was intended to promote environmental gains through innovative partnerships with 12 manufacturing and service sectors.
Based on the Agency’s notice, the new Smart Sectors Program appears to have a somewhat different emphasis than its predecessor by giving the participating sectors a stronger role in influencing policy and expecting less from them in terms of environmental improvement, at least through conventional avenues.
For example, the goal of the Sector Strategies Program was to work with sector trade groups and other stakeholders to address and overcome barriers to environmental improvement; promote the use of environmental management systems; and track progress using performance metrics.
In contrast, the FR notice states that under the Smart Sectors Program, Agency liaisons to specific sectors will focus their attention on “building relationships and improving customer service to sectors; developing additional expertise in each industry’s operations and environmental performance; and informing the planning of future policies, regulations, and Agency processes.” The notice adds that participating industries will be invited to “engage in active dialogue and offer their own innovative ideas to reduce environmental impacts.”
In Smart Sectors, the EPA has initially identified the following sectors it will work with: aerospace, agriculture, automotive, cement and concrete, chemical manufacturing, construction, electronics and technology, iron and steel, oil and gas, ports and shipping, and utilities and power generation. Sectors were selected based on each sector’s potential to improve the environment and public health. The Agency says it welcomes participation from other stakeholders.
Historically, the EPA has engaged with industry sectors in voluntary programs to promote compliance and complement and/or compensate for the level of regulatory enforcement the Agency as well as the states are able to conduct. But, based on EPA’s Fiscal Year 2018: Justification of Appropriation Estimates for the Committee on Appropriations, there may be an opening for a stronger role for voluntary programs that achieve at least some of the same goals as enforcement. Specifically, the justification document indicates that the administration is seeking to reduce funding for both its civil and criminal enforcement programs, focus on enforcing the most “significant” violations, and step back from taking an enforcement role in programs that are delegated to the states.
The proposed budget and staffing reductions are substantial when compared to fiscal year 2017 and include a $30 million cut in civil enforcement of environmental programs ($170 million to $140 million) and a $6 million cut in criminal enforcement of environmental programs ($46 million to $40 million). For both civil and criminal programs, the administration’s proposal would reduce staffing by about 280 full-time equivalents (FTEs).
Even if Congress provides more enforcement funding than the EPA wants, the industry-friendly policies of the administration and the EPA suggest that voluntary programs such as Smart Sectors will play a larger role in achieving compliance and traditional enforcement a lesser one.
EPA’s announcement of the Smart Sectors Program was published in the September 26, 2017, FR.