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EPA and the New Congress

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Fridays New York Times reports on what it thinks is a new era of caution at the EPA.

Even a cursory review of the agency’s own scorecard of its 2010 enforcement activities cannot sustain that conclusion.

When I asked my law partner Liz McNulty –who among her many callings represents apparel companies on FIFRA-related compliance– if EPA was easing up, she just laughed. Here are just a few examples of enforcement cases brought by EPA this year in just its Region 9.

Yesterday I interviewed Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn on his new job as a member of the Appropriations subcommittee tasked with EPA and Department of the Interior funding. (The transcript is here.) This is the subcommittee that will have a huge hand in overseeing how the agency is doing its job across all of the many statutes it enforces, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and FIFRA. Lamborn is excited at the challenge, and hopefully the agency will welcome the opportunity to explain and expand on its enforcement priorities in an era of 10% unemployment.

One of the great threats to business at the state level in the months ahead is that state regulatory agencies will become primarily revenuers and not regulators, cash-hungary bureaucracies seeking fines and permit fees as a supplement to slashed budgets. This is especially true in California, but the dynamic could find a related-counterpart at the federal level with agencies seeking to bolster their reason for being (and thus their budgets) through pumped-up enforcement activity. Congressional oversight will have to dig into these statements of regulatory success to see if the effort and alleged public health benefit was worth the cost in jobs and lost productivity.

UPDATE: In a disappointing surprise, Congressman Lamborn was not named to Appropriations by the GOP House Steering Committee. After the press reports that Jeff Flake would not be given a subcommittee tasked with general oversight of the spending panel’s operations, this decision excluding Lamborn adds to the concern that the new GOP leadership is retreating from its commmitment to genuinely change the culture of spending that has long dominated appropriations work.



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