Subcommittee Examines Role of States in Protecting the Environment
WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, chaired by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), today kicked off its agenda for the 113th Congress with a hearing on “The Role of the States in Protecting the Environment Under Current Law.” Today’s panel of witnesses featured representatives from state offices that oversee groundwater, drinking water, oil and gas, and solid and hazardous wastes.
Chairman Shimkus convened the hearing to highlight the role state officials play in protecting the environment and public health under several of the federal laws in the subcommittee’s jurisdiction, including the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).
“This hearing will help raise awareness and set the stage for future discussions we are going to have on environmental protection. Many of us get caught up with what the U.S. EPA thinks or what it can do and fail to focus on the states and what they can and must do,” said Chairman Shimkus. “The states are by no means ‘junior regulators’ or the minor leagues of environmental protection. Rather, their plate is twice as full. To carry out federal environmental law, states have a lot of delegated authority. But states also have their own protective laws. Often, beyond anything the federal government has asked.”
The witnesses described their first-hand experiences as state and local regulators and highlighted the work states are already doing under existing law to protect the environment.
Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Director Teresa Marks, testifying on behalf of the Environmental Council of States, noted, “State agencies conduct over 90 percent of the environmental inspections, enforcement, and environmental data collection, and issue a similar amount of all the environmental permits.” Marks explained that in many instances, due to proximity and expert understanding of localities, states are better equipped to conduct effective regulation, stating, “The states, having more familiarity with their regulated industries and being located in closer proximity thereto, generally provide timelier compliance assistance and response to citizen concerns and complaints.”
Representing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, Harold R. Fitch explained that states often have greater flexibility in implementing regulations, stating, “Our regulatory structures are adaptable in addressing new technologies and new concerns, and they yield consistent results tailored to our specific needs and priorities.” Describing the success state regulators have had in protecting the environment, Fitch highlighted Michigan’s oversight of hydraulic fracturing. He stated, “Hydraulic fracturing was first used in Michigan in 1952. Since then, we have had over 12,000 wells hydraulically fractured and there have been no instances of environmental contamination related to the practice."
Chairman Shimkus described another example where the states have demonstrated strong regulatory leadership – Maryland’s management of coal ash within its state. Shimkus stated, “The state did not sit by powerless. Rather, in December 2008 the Maryland Department of the Environment issued one of the more robust sets of coal ash rules in the country. Maryland is not the only state, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have demonstrated strong programs that are serious, flexible, and successful.”
Full Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), added, “It is important to understand the important role states play in protecting the environment. One thing we already know is that Washington does not always know best.”