Playing Nice with Others – EPA and State Cooperation In Today’s World

Posted on January 12, 2017 by Robert J. Martineau Jr.

As the Obama Administration comes to an end and the Trump Administration is about to begin, I want to reflect on the current relationship between EPA and state environmental agencies.  I have been active in the environmental law arena for over 30 years, in private practice, in the Office of General Counsel at EPA, and for the past six years as a state environmental commissioner.  In addition, for four of the past six years, I served as an officer for the Environmental Council of States (ECOS).  In each of those roles, I have witnessed the give and take relationship between EPA and state environmental agencies. 

This has not been a static relationship.  Over the past few years, the working relationship between state agencies, ECOS, and EPA has improved substantially - even when strong differences concerning particular regulatory initiatives or policies exist.  For example, even those states opposed to EPA’s Clean Power Plan rule readily acknowledge that EPA’s outreach to stakeholders, and especially their state partners, was unprecedented.   In many other cases, Administrator McCarthy and her team worked collaboratively as partners with states in addressing an issue.   Indeed, it has become the way to do business.   This change in culture across EPA is due in large part to the efforts of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and current and former Deputy Administrators Stan Meiburg and Bob Perciasepe.  Together they reached out to states, brought them to the table and found committed, willing partners in ECOS members.  They listened and treated states as equal partners.   Their leadership made clear that all parts of EPA should follow that partnership model.   

Truly, the relationship between EPA and the states has matured to a working relationship of joint governance.  One of my state colleagues has commented that if you said “co-regulator” to EPA ten years ago, they would flinch. Today, states and EPA leaders use that term freely and are engaged in many projects together as partners to protect public health and the environment in an efficient and cost effective way.   We have moved from a parent- child relationship to equal partners.   This has been a positive both for state and federal entities, but also for regulated industry, environmental organizations, and the public. 

As Administrator McCarthy and her leadership team prepare to depart, it’s clear that the new Administration will have different policy goals.  That is the consequence of elections and change of Administrations.   Regardless of the substantive policy decisions that will be confronted in the days ahead, I hope the efforts made over the past few years by Administrator McCarthy and her team to foster a more collaborative approach between EPA and the states will continue.