Policy Group Calls For Extensive Changes at EPA

By Brian Hansen

WASHINGTON, DC, January 19, 2001 (ENS) - Sweeping changes are needed at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and now is the time to implement them. That is the underlying conclusion embodied in a new report released today by the Reason Public Policy Institute, a Los Angeles, California based think tank that bills itself as a "leading voice for individual choice, economic freedom, and market based public policy incentives."

The group's 54 page report, entitled "Managing for Results at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was released at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, just one day before President-elect George W. Bush is to be sworn into office.

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EPA personnel deal with the release of hazardous material from a train tank car. (Photos courtesy EPA)
It was no coincidence that the report was released just over 24 hours before the new President and his team will move into the White House, said Carl DeMaio, the group's director of government redesign.

"Every four years, the new President, Congress, and designated EPA administrator are inundated with policy papers from various organizations during the transition period," DeMaio noted. "The various sides of the environmental debate are busy jockeying this morning trying to shape the environmental policy agenda for the next four years."

Unfortunately, in their "rush" to influence environmental policies, many interest groups often neglect or ignore fundamentally important issues of "sound management and performance," DeMaio said. Among the biggest challenges that will face the incoming EPA administrator DeMaio added, will be addressing "key management issues" and "delivering on environmental performance."

DeMaio described his organization's report as a "timely project designed to formulate transition recommendations for the new President, EPA administrator, and the U.S. Congress on improving the performance and management at the EPA."

DeMaio said that by instituting a system of performance based management, the EPA could help both political parties to "heal from this last election and avoid the polarized and politicized environmental debates that we sometimes have had in the past."

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An EPA public meeting after an emergency response action allows people to ask questions and make comments.
"Improving environmental performance is neither a Democrat nor a Republican issue, but is a citizens issue that both parties can and should agree on and aggressively implement," DeMaio said hopefully.

The report released today, which will be made available to the Bush administration and Congress, was born out of a focus group discussion session conducted last October in Washington. DeMaio said the discussion session was designed to assemble "as diverse and distinguished a group of environmental experts and stakeholders as possible."

According to documents provided by the Reason Institute, the session's 40 participants included current and former EPA officials from both Democrat and Republican administrations; political officials; legislative and executive branch staff members; environmental interest groups; business groups; and academicians.

This group of experts was asked to answer three basic questions, DeMaio said. The questions asked:

  1. What progress has been made over the past ten years to improve the management and performance of programs at the EPA?

  2. What challenges remain to be addressed before additional progress can be made at the EPA?

  3. If you could give only three action items for the next administration and Congress to focus on to improve management and performance of EPA programs, what would they be?

While the project was not designed to produce a consensus of views, the various stakeholders to the process actually found a "surprising" amount of common ground, DeMaio said.

worker

An EPA worker samples drums containing unknown hazardous substances.
"It seems that the principle of performance in environment can go a long ways in converging the differences that have often divided us in the past in our debates and discussion of environmental issues," DeMaio said.

The "performance" principle, DeMaio explained, involves using objective, scientifically based, quantifiable criteria to gauge the effectiveness of various EPA initiatives and programs.

The stakeholders who participated in the project put forth a number of recommendations that fit under that "performance" principle, DeMaio said. Among them:

Asked if those recommendations would result in cleaner air and cleaner water, DeMaio said, "Absolutely.

"Our main focus here this morning is performance, and everything starts at that standpoint - not only how you get cleaner air and cleaner water, but how you deal with the whole range of issues that the U.S. EPA has to deal with," DeMaio said.

According to the stakeholders, the EPA does not now have a system in place that that can accurately reflect the effectiveness of its myriad environmental programs and initiatives, DeMaio said.

"We need better performance information," DeMaio said. "At the end of the day, if we're not improving the water and not improving the air, all these efforts are for naught."

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To protect the public from the threats posed by hazardous waste sites, EPA will erect fencing and other controls to prevent access.
Lynn Scarlet, the newly appointed president of the Reason Institute's foundation, said that the state of Florida has implemented a set of environmental performance indicators that have significantly improved the goal of environmental protection in that state. The indicators track any number of data points, such as air quality of the number of endangered manatees in the Everglades, Scarlet said.

Scarlet said that the environmental performance system implemented by the state of Florida serves as a "management tool for investing resources to solve problems."

Scarlet was tapped by the incoming Bush administration earlier this month to serve on what has been described as a "nonpartisan transition policy team" for environmental matters.

Scarlet and other Reason Foundation officials emphasized that their report is "nonpartisan" in nature, and that it is not their intention to advocate - or oppose - policy initiatives considered by the incoming Bush administration.

Asked how the recommendations embodied in the report might harmonize with the "voluntary compliance" initiatives favored by New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, the presumptive new EPA administrator, DeMaio said, "Our message is consistent with her message regarding environmental performance."

"You have to have a measuring stick in place, and if we can't understand how we characterize success, we won't be able to judge whether voluntary versus a more stringent enforcement approach is better or worse," DeMaio said. "You have to have that level of performance focus and that level of accountability."

That point was echoed by Robbie Roberts, an official with a group known as the Environmental Council of the States, a coalition of all 50 states.

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EPA personnel respond to emergencies such as this fire that engulfed a truck carrying hazardous materials.
Roberts said that about 80 percent of the environmental enforcement actions that are taken each year are taken by state governments, not the federal EPA. And most states, he said, realize that "simply counting enforcement actions" does not give a clear picture of how clean the air and water are.

Roberts said that a 10 percent spike in enforcement actions "does not mean that the air is 10 percent cleaner or the water is 10 percent cleaner."

"Monitoring those systems would tell us whether that was the case or not," he said.

The Reason Institute's report did prompt other criticisms when it was unveiled Friday. One observer asked why no nationally known environmental advocacy groups participated in the drafting of the report.

The Progressive Policy Institute's Debra Knopman, who partnered with the Reason Institute in compiling the report, said, "I think that observation is a fair one."

"People were invited. They chose not to come. I think that's a problem," Knopman said.

According to the report, the individuals who did participate in drafting the recommendations that will be forwarded to Bush and Whitman included Randy Randoll of the Exxon Mobil Corporation, Joe Mayhew of the American Chemistry Council, Alex Beehler of the Manufacturers Alliance, and Angela Antonelli of the Heritage Foundation.

DeMaio said he hoped that the national environmental advocacy groups would engage themselves in EPA management issues as the new administration gets established in Washington.

"They were from the get-go on our invitation list," he said. "We welcome them in the next round of dialogue."

"The reason why no environmental advocacy groups participated in the Reason Institute's recommendations for EPA reform is that the Reason Institute lies within that assemblege of far right think tanks whose recommendations are antithetical to environmental protection," said John Peterson Myers, Ph.D., director of the W. Alton Jones Foundation which provides philanthropic and technical support to organizations working in the U.S. and overseas.

"The Institute's principal environmental agenda is dismantlement of the EPA," said Dr. Myers.

For more information on the Reason Institute and to read the full text of its recommendations for the EPA, log on to the group's website at: http://www.rppi.org