When Lisa Jackson was appointed as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) administrator in 2008, we hoped for a return to the type of relationship the agency had with communities before 1987. At that time, EPA treated communities like partners as it developed and implemented Clean Water Act regulations and provided funds to construct needed facilities. With Ms. Jackson, we got stepped up enforcement, little flexibility or reasonableness, and solidified barriers between the regulators and the regulated; hardly the foundation on which partnerships are built. Now that Ms. Jackson is stepping down from her position, we hope – once again – for a change in the relationship between EPA and those it regulates rather than heavy handed, inflexible mandates. We will advocate for the Obama Administration’s choice for the next administrator to be a person who better reflects the varied interests of the nation, not just environmental advocacy at any cost. Today’s water quality problems are more subtle requiring more costly solutions that do not guarantee environmental benefits. It would be helpful for the next administrator to have expertise in local government to better understand the financial constraints and economic development impacts that communities face as they work to protect the environment. We must use a balanced approach as we seek to solve the 21st century’s water quality problems.
EPA’s recent focus has mostly been on enforcement to the limits of technology at any cost. But in today’s complex world, where we are just starting to understand the intricacies of how the environment responds to changing conditions, a singular focus and simple solutions do not work. Hopefully the new EPA administrator will model a new culture and way of working with communities to protect our water resources, including providing funding to help communities catch up with the current multi-billion dollar maintenance back log and keep up with new regulations. The Coalition especially hopes that its members and other communities write letters and meet with Congressional delegations and EPA leaders to push for changes in the way the Clean Water Act is administered to include existing sections that are currently ignored (e.g., Section 208 watershed based planning), updates that reflect our realities, reform for more flexibility and consideration of costs.
It has been rumored that deputy administrator, Robert Perciasepe, will take over the position temporarily (possibly permanently). This could be a welcome change and hopefully a positive impact for the water industry. Mr. Perciasepe was the nation’s top water official during part of the Clinton administration and helped to develop the Clean Water Action Plan in the mid-1990s, which advocated for more collaboration, funding and community based planning. If he does stay on as administrator, we hope he will continue to emphasize these principles. We will continue to monitor political and regulatory changes and with your help, we will work to effect the change necessary for sustainable, reasonable and balanced approaches to today’s water quality problems.