Environmental Protection:

EPA's and States' Efforts to 'Reinvent' Environmental Regulation

T-RCED-98-33: Published: Nov 4, 1997. Publicly Released: Nov 4, 1997.

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GAO discussed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and the states' roles in promoting and implementing innovative methods of environmental regulation, focusing on: (1) a draft agreement between EPA and the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) on environmental regulation; and (2) the findings of a GAO report on EPA's and the states' efforts to reinvent environmental regulation.

GAO noted that: (1) the draft EPA-ECOS agreement provides a useful framework in two key respects; (2) it attempts to clarify EPA's and the states' roles in promoting and implementing innovative regulatory projects; (3) in particular, the agreement addresses sensitive issues that had been the subject of much debate between EPA and many states, such as the extent to which innovation projects must demonstrate improved environmental performance; (4) the agreement attempts to help EPA manage a growing number of innovation projects by establishing a process that distinguishes between those projects that can be handled at lower levels within the agency and those that require senior management's attention; (5) as with any such agreement, there are a number of practical questions and procedural issues that need to be clarified--some of which may be fully addressed only after EPA and ECOS have had experience implementing the agreement; (6) beyond these practical considerations, however, a number of broader issues need to be addressed effectively to create a climate in which regulatory innovation can succeed and in which environmental regulation can be truly be reinvented; (7) among these barriers are: (a) many key stakeholders in the reinvention process have expressed concern over the large number of complex and demanding initiatives now being undertaken--as well as confusion over the underlying purpose of some of the agency's major initiatives; (b) EPA has had difficulty achieving buy-in among the agency's rank and file, who have grown accustomed to a regulatory structure that has largely been in place throughout the agency's 27-year history; (c) the agency has had difficulty achieving agreement among external stakeholders in a number of its reinvention efforts, particularly when stakeholders perceive that unanimous agreement is required before progress can be made; and (d) EPA has an uneven record in evaluating the success of many of its initiatives; (8) in addition, today's environmental laws impose requirements that have led to, and tend to reinforce, many of the existing regulatory and behavioral practices that EPA is seeking to change; and (9) as a consequence, the agency will be limited in its ability to reinvent environmental regulation within this existing legislative framework.

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