Superfund Cleanups, Cooperating with States Priorities for Trump’s EPA
While there are still many questions surrounding the role of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Trump administration, changes are underway.
Businesses can expect the agency to expedite cleanups of Superfund sites and work closer with state environmental agencies, an EPA administrator told a packed house at CBIA’s 2017 Energy & Environment Conference June 16.
“One of the clear priorities is to speed up Superfund cleanup, which is a great idea.
“We’re really looking forward to it. I’ve already started to engage with the new team on ideas about how to do that.
“Those of you who are involved in Superfund will no doubt feel that there’s activity there coming shortly so that’s definitely an area of focus, to get those cleanups moving and completed faster.”
Federal, State Partnerships
Another priority is encouraging more cooperation among the EPA and state environmental agencies.
“The federal-state partnership is critically important to the new administrator,” Moraff said.
“We’re really well positioned in our region to carry that out. EPA Region 1 has always had, for decades, very strong relationships with the New England states.
“We’re a small region. We’re in our state offices all the time; they’re in our office all the time. We do a lot of communication, joint strategy, setting workload plans.
“That’s the way we’ve been doing business now for a long time.”
But he noted that such a relationship could become complicated if there are disputes between states, or regions, over issues such as air and water quality.
“How does this all play out in an administration that really wants states to take a leading role when there are disputes among states? What role does EPA play there?” Moraff asked.
“We don’t have any real tests of that yet. The first few are just starting to bubble up, so we don’t know exactly how that’s going to be handled.”
The EPA’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 calls for a 31% spending reduction from the current plan.
That would certainly affect staffing levels and impact state environmental protection efforts as it will likely force the EPA to cut back grants to states.
Staffing levels at EPA Region 1 have fallen steadily since the 1990s, so there’s concern that further budget cuts could cause deeper personnel reductions, especially when coupled with shrinking staffs at state environmental agencies, Moraff said.
“The workload is challenging on both a federal and state level,” he said.
Whether Congress approves anything close to the proposed 31% cut remains to be seen.
A lot of things are happening and they're happening quickly.
"EPA and the states are really going to be tested to figure out how to cope with the new fiscal reality if the budget passes.
"It's going to have a real impact on the kind of work we're able to do."
Day Pitney LLP partner Harold Blinderman, who has represented clients in energy, environmental and public utility law for more than 30 years, said federal cutbacks will be felt at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and impact enforcement.
"It will continue to affect how DEEP does business across the board, whether it's permitting or compliance assurance, or enforcement, it's going to have a trickle down," he said.
Moraff said that the new administration is already starting to review regulations, including some about to go on the books.
Sally Kruse, a senior environmental engineer with PSEG Power Connecticut, noted that at the 2015 conference, she spoke of changes to regulations adopted under the Clean Water Act.
While that may create uncertainty for businesses trying to adapt to a law that was later rescinded, Moraff said it's not a bad idea to periodically review regulations.
"The new administration provides an opportunity to look at the regulations, focusing on the important ones, and determine if there are some that need updating or rethinking," he said.
"That process is underway."
A lot remains uncertain at the EPA due to the slow pace of appointing administrators.
"We don't have a real leadership team in place yet other than the EPA administrator," he said.
"We don't have the people who are responsible for translating high-level ideas into on-the-ground actions and changes.
"A year from now we'll know more hopefully, but there's not a lot of detail I can give you yet."
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