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Regional EPA Leader Admits that Regulators are Now on a ‘Learning Curve’

With the change of presidential administrations, the regional directors for the Environmental Protection Agency are on a “learning curve.”

That is what Deb Thomas, acting administrator for Region 8’s EPA told the Environmental Leader conference. She represents six western states and 27 tribal nations. But she said that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has given several guiding principles to provide insight into where the federal agency may be going: 

— The Rule of Law. The administrator is advising the regional directors to ensure that they focus on the statutes that Congress has provided and as they go through the rule-making process, they are to make sure the rules are tethered to the statutes. The goal is to avoid lawsuits.

— Cooperative Federalism. The states and the tribes are the primary implementers and enforcers of our laws. When the regional directors have issues that come up and that have not been resolved, the states are to be viewed as the primary source to determine the rule of law. Or, if there is an adverse effect to any business for a rule now under consideration, the goal is to ensure it is grounded in our laws.

We are interested in “making sure we are getting everyone to the table and taking into consideration everyone’s input when we make policy,” said Thomas. 

Some of the main issues EPA will focus on are the development of infrastructure, ensuring clean and safe water as well as clean air and getting land returned to a place where it can be re-used. Regarding land use, for example, the goal is to get Superfund and brownfield sites cleaned up — to raise their economic value in local communities. “What can we do to streamline those processes to clean up contaminated sites?” she asked.

Another priority is to keep the country’s environment safe from toxic chemicals and ensure that new and existing chemicals are evaluated in a timely manner. And last, she noted Trump’s executive order enforcing regulatory reform or, what regulations should be repealed, replaced or modified to create energy independence. 

“We are all working in an environment of uncertainty,” she concluded. 

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