EPA, States Clash over Environmental Policies

Published August 1, 1997

State legislatures and regulatory agencies have begun to assert their authority to set environmental priorities for their respective states. Groups such as the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) have been formed specifically to strengthen the states’ position regarding environmental policy making. The states’ newfound assertiveness has caused a rush of ill-will between many states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency–which has been desperately attempting to control state innovations with regard to regulatory reform and flexibility.

Environmental Self-Audits

On no issue has the EPA/state struggle been more apparent than the environmental self-audit privilege legislation that has been enacted in 21 states. The EPA has opposed environmental self-audit privilege bills and has threatened states that have audit laws with the revocation of their Title V program authority.

In Idaho, threats from the EPA to revoke Title V operating permit program authority prompted Governor Phil Batt (R) to allow the state environmental audit law to sunset. In Texas, similar threats compelled the state to weaken its environmental audit law. The EPA has been actively lobbying in state legislatures against these bills. Most recently, EPA representatives testified against audit legislation in Delaware, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada and West Virginia. Montana and Nevada, however, proceeded to pass their audit legislation despite the EPA’s interference. The other bills failed.

Clean Air Act

The 1990 Clean Air Act requirements are also at the center of a number of disagreements between the states and the EPA. States have strongly opposed what they perceive as unrealistic regulatory burdens in EPA’s particulate matter and ozone standard rulemaking. By EPA’s own estimates, 280 counties will be unable to comply with the new standards for ozone. In addition, EPA estimates that some 150 counties will be unable to comply with the new particulate matter standards.

In anticipation of the new standards, eight states–Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Carolina, and Utah–have passed resolutions urging EPA to move cautiously and take into account specific state circumstances (e.g., ozone transport) in developing its new standards. Similar resolutions were introduced in Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico, but failed to pass. Although each of the state resolutions differed in wording, all urged EPA to use cost benefit analysis, risk assessment, and sound science in its rulemaking process.

States have also taken a stand against expanded auto emissions testing programs required in ozone attainment areas. New England states in particular argue that pollution from other states travels eastward because of weather patterns, complicating New England’s air pollution problems. On May 20, the New Hampshire legislature, unhappy with having to meet emission requirements that do not consider ozone transport, passed legislation to delay implementation of the state’s enhanced Inspection and Maintenance Program. Governor Jeanne Shaheen (D) signed the bill on June 9. In response, EPA has given New Hampshire 18 months to implement an enhanced program. If the state legislature persists in its refusal to comply with EPA demands, facilities wishing to expand and businesses wishing to locate in New Hampshire will be subject to stricter emission requirements. Additionally, If the state legislature does not authorize implementation of a program within 24 months, the state may lose its federal highway funds.

Maryland legislators have also acted to end EPA’s expanded emissions mandate. Ignoring EPA’s mandate to have in place a full emissions program by June 1997, state legislators passed 1997 S.B. 278, which would have made the state’s enhanced Inspection and Maintenance program voluntary. Governor Parris Glendening (D) vetoed the bill, staving off EPA’s threat to increase air emission requirements and cut off federal highway funds.