Thursday, January 26, 2017

What will Trump do to the EPA?

By Lesley K. McAllister

I’m starting to think that the years I have spent studying environmental agencies in Latin American countries might come in handy. I spent about a year in Brazil in the early 2000, where I got to know several governmental environmental agencies.  I interned with two state environmental agencies: CETESB in the industrialized state of Sao Paulo, and SECTAM, in the Amazonian state of Para.  Along with an environmental agency in each of Brazil’s 28 states, there is also IBAMA, the federal agency.  As you can see, this sounds familiar. 

CETESB gained institutional strength in the early 90s, when Brazil realized that its largest industrial area (located in the most industrialized state, of course) was a big polluted mess. CETESB staffed up to about three thousand employees and took a lot of lessons from the US EPA. It successfully established a pollution permitting systems backed up by inspections and enforcement, and by the early 2000s had become a pretty functional agency, looked to as a model by many developing countries.   SECTAM was a much more typical state agency, vastly underresourced and understaffed - 117 employees to deal with environmental protection throughout Para, which is 2.5 times the size of California. The federal agency, IBAMA, had about 5,000 employees total, and was generally perceived as weak and riddled with corruption.

In other words, CESTEB had developed some “capacity,” whereas SECTAM and IBAMA had not. Not that CETESB was perfect, but it had a degree of competence in both the administrative and technical aspects of environmental protection. I could talk to its inspectors about how they did inspections – because they were equipped enough to do them.  I could talk to its department chiefs about certain policies – because they were equipped enough to develop policies.  In contrast, when I talked to people from SECTAM and even IBAMA, there seemed to be much less to talk about.  Lacking resources, the agencies simply didn’t do as much.  And, in addition to lacking capacity, the lacked independence or “autonomy.”  Agencies with little autonomy are dominated  and steamrolled by the executive power (governor or president)  who almost invariably favors economic development interests.

I recently returned to Brazil.  There have been some good changes in the 2000s. IBAMA hired a lot of  people and it became a functional agency, with more capacity and autonomy.  Para’s state agency, SECTAM, changed its name to SEMAS, and has experienced some increase in capacity. CETESB has continued being CETESB – not perfect, of course, but still made up of a critical mass of knowledgeable and competent people trying to do the work of environmental protection.

And now to bring it all home: I saw a headline this morning announcing that Trump’s advisors recommend steep cuts in the EPA's staffing levels – reducing the workforce from about 15,000 people to 5,000 people. It is easy to see that the Administration has it in for the EPA, what with the gag order that was imposed to prohibit employees from talking with the press or public and the nomination of Scott Pruitt for the top job of Administrator.  Pruitt's most notable environmentally-related deeds as Oklahoma’s Attorney General include establishing a “federalism unit” to fight Obama regulations and suing the EPA multiple times.  

It should be clear what can happen here, because it happens all over the world. Our environmental agencies can be made to lack capacity and autonomy – and then they won’t work.   And let us not forget: they have been functional agencies that have worked well.  This is not the place to recount the many achievements of EPA's work implementing our federal environmental laws over the past 4 decades, but the benefits to our health and welfare FAR outweigh the costs.

January 26, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Hello again (and a reminder to donate to environmental advocacy groups)!

By: Lesley K. McAllister, UC Davis School of Law

Hello! It’s been a while since I blogged here at Environmental Law Prof Blog, and I feel that I am now being called back to it. I, like many environmental law aficionados, am very worried about how the new administration will work against environmental protection. I have lots of reasons to just check out and be quiet about it. The biggest one is that I probably don’t have long to live. I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer over three years ago. Aggressive treatment has slowed its course, but the cancer is widely-diffused in my body, and I’ve heard that that means it will kill me.

I have been a “member-scholar” of the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) for about eight years. Over fifteen years ago, soon after George Bush’s administration began, Professors Rena Steinzor (University of Maryland School of Law), Tom McGarity (University of Texas School of Law), and Sid Shapiro (Wake Forest University School of Law) founded CPR. They did so because they and others in the public interest community perceived a need for a progressive think-tank to focus on environmental, health and safety, and consumer protection. At that time, like today, the White House and both chambers of Congress were controlled by the Republican Party.  Then, like today, they knew they were going to see serious and multifarious attempts to undermine our environmental laws, with the assistance of well-funded think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute.

CPR’s founders aspired to assemble and mobilize voices from legal academia to inform policymakers and the public of the critical importance of effective protective regulation.   As a collective of working scholars joining together to participate in the public debate, CPR is as independent of politics as an organization can be. CPR doesn’t adopt institutional positions on issues, but rather encourages scholars to speak out themselves. 

Since its founding, CPR has consistently aired perspectives and knowledge timed to counter countless anti-regulatory initiatives through op-eds, reports, news alerts, CPRBlog, and various other means. CPR scholars are often invited to give Congressional testimony because of their expertise and independence. Areas of focus have included climate change, food and drug safety, good government, and many others.

But CPR hasn’t yet worked itself out of a job. It now has over 50 member-scholars, and its mission is more relevant and important than ever. Visit if you’d like to support CPR and enable more CPR work to make it into our public policy debates (please see the top right hand corner “DONATE” in small letters). I can assure you that CPR uses every dollar to maximum impact. (Of course, there are other great environmental organizations to donate too, and if you have a different favorite, then donate to them!).  

With this post, I pledge to try to use some of the good time and energy I have left to blog about why we need laws and regulations that protect us, how protective laws and regulations are now under attack, and what we can do about it.

January 25, 2017 | Permalink