By James Goodwin, Center for Progressive Reform
Tomorrow, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight is set to hold a hearing investigating the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) compliance with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA). UMRA is striking because it was passed in 1995 as part of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s attacks on the U.S. regulatory system – an era that is reminiscent of today’s strident anti-regulatory zeal. Indeed, today’s anti-regulatory members of Congress continue to explore ways to use UMRA as a weapon for kneecapping agencies they oppose on political grounds or that are inconvenient to their corporate benefactors.
The essential premise of UMRA is far from objectionable – that federal agencies should collaborate with state, local, and tribal partners when developing new safeguards. But, as CPR Member Scholar and Board Member Rob Glicksman will testify tomorrow, the pursuit of UMRA’s laudable goals should not be used as an excuse for preventing the EPA from achieving the goals set out in the various statutes it implements to provide all Americans with a minimum, universal level of protection against unacceptable public health risks.
Professor Glicksman’s testimony explains that the collaboration between EPA and subnational governmental bodies envisioned in UMRA is entirely consistent with and indeed supportive of the model of cooperative federalism that undergirds the federal environmental laws that the agency implements. Critically, this model allows the EPA’s state, local, and tribal partners to make key implementation choices that are consistent with their unique circumstances, but without sacrificing a minimum level of protection for all Americans. His testimony explains that this is critical, since sometimes, state or local policymakers fail to take adequate steps on their own to protect their citizens, as illustrated by the recent Flint, Michigan drinking water crisis and the 2013 fertilizer storage facility explosion that occurred in West, Texas.
Professor Glicksman’s testimony goes on to criticize current efforts to revise UMRA, which would push it away from its asserted goals. In particular, he criticizes two pending bills to overhaul UMRA, both of which would not only further contribute to the problem of regulatory “ossification” but also empower corporate interests to interfere in the rulemaking process.
In defending the current approach to providing public health and environmental protections for all while accommodating state, local, and tribal prerogatives and knowledge as much as possible, Professor Glicksman’s testimony makes the following four points:
- The safeguards adopted and implemented by EPA have delivered enormous benefits to the American people.
- The protections Americans receive from EPA safeguards should not be an accident of geography.
- Our increasingly hobbled regulatory system is undermining EPA’s ability to carry out its statutory missions of protecting public health and environmental integrity.
- Various proposals to revise UMRA would create wasteful and unproductive analytical requirements that duplicate those that exist under current law while diminishing the ability of EPA and other agencies to adequately protect public health, safety, and the environment.
The hearing is scheduled for 2:30 pm on Tuesday, June 7 and will take place in Room 406 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.