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Conservative Leadership Conference

Conservative Leadership Conference
December 3, 1994
Becky Norton Dunlop

When I was asked to address the conference today, the topic I was given was “Spotted Owls and Acid Rain: How Conservatives can win the Environmental Debate.” In Virginia, as Secretary of Natural Resources, I have taken a very direct approach to winning that debate. The principles that guide public policymaking in the Allen Administration are based on common sense and a sound philosophy about the roles of government and science.

But, there are two topics that I want to discuss with you today; they are separate, but highly interrelated. First, I will discuss with you my views, and the views of Governor Allen, on Federalism and the proper relationship between State and Federal government. The Allen Administration will be a national forceful leader on this issue. Secondly, I will outline the principles that I use to formulate public policy for the Commonwealth’s Natural Resources and Environmental areas. You will notice a strong correlation between the two subjects.

My experience in the federal government and my current responsibilities at the state level give me special interest in the revival and resurgence of the concept and idea of federalism. This issue is gaining momentum in the states among Governors of both parties. I hope that a new Republican majority in congress will follow through on their promise to the citizens to shrink governments and return authority (and tax dollars) to the states and localities.

Some of you may be aware of the Governor’s newly created Advisory Council on Self-Determination and Federalism of which Charles Cooper, who is the former chairman of President Reagan’s Federalism working group, and I are co-chairs. This group of 52 highly capable Virginians will focus on the issue of State sovereignty, not only here in Virginia, but around the country.

Currently, the federal government under President Clinton, is moving aggressively in the opposite direction. The Clinton administration is shifting the focus back to command and control federalization of policy rather than federalism. Words and rhetoric that support state flexibility and state government authority are not matched by actions of the Clinton Administration. And actions speak louder than words.

The federal government’s appetite is voracious -for dollars -for power- for bigger and bigger federal government. Regard for states is lacking. Regard for the Tenth Amendment is nil.

Yet, having observed the current status, I recall President Reagan’s statement that he believed the Twenty-first century will be the century of the States. I agree with him –and I am optimistic.

In Virginia, we look upon our challenge for the remainder of the Allen administration, as Commonwealth’s Federalist challenge. And, indeed, it is also America’s Federalist challenge. We misunderstand what federalism is and why it is important. First of all, federalism is in a word liberty. The genius of the American experiment is that our Constitution is a charter of government. The central proposition of which is that the people must be protected from government, and that the power of government is justly derived from the people.

As George Washington said in his farewell address, “Government is like fire. It can be a helpful servant or a fearful master.” And today as never before we are suffering under the ravages of a fearful master.

The principle of Federalism is woven into every bit of the fabric of the Constitution, and is summed up in the 10th Amendment, “The Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

My area of natural resources and environmental policies is in the very vortex of this issue. You might even say we are a virtual magnet for unfunded federal mandates and bureaucratic red tape.

So now, I would like to outline the five principles that guide public policy-making in my secretariat. I believe it will be very clear to you how some of these principles relate to or are dependent on Federalism.

First and foremost: People are Virginia’s greatest natural resource. The enhancement of our natural resources relies on the good stewardship of the citizens of this Commonwealth. Clean air and water are not to be taken for granted. They must be treated with the respect and care that their inherent value requires. It is our role, in government, to assure that regulatory structure empowers good stewards of our environment, promotes innovation, advances sound science, and encourages the practice of good conservation methods.

I speak to groups and individual across the political spectrum. Some who agree with my philosophy and some that don’t -to put it mildly. Regardless of whom I meet with, I say the same things.

The result of this approach is that when people discuss and the press cover, the Natural Resources policies of the Allen Administration they inevitably report my saying things like “people are Virginia’s most important natural resource”. Although some in the press and many radical environmentalists may find my statements to be outrageous, the truth of the matter is that most of the citizens of the Commonwealth assume that they are treated as an asset by the makers of law whom they have elected. And it is enormously helpful to my goals as Secretary of Natural Resources when the media points out to the citizens and voters that, in fact, people are considered as a secondary factor when federal environmental laws and regulations are formulated.

A story that the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran that reported a comment I made before the Chesapeake Bay Commission this fall, in reference to the high value that Governor Allen and I place on the citizens of Virginia, drew a letter to the editor of that paper that demonstrates the schism between how citizens believe they are considered and how they actually are treated by officials who govern bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Dear Editor:” The letter-write penned, “In reference to Secretary Dunlop’s remarks. . . most people do consider themselves to be an asset and expect that they are considered as such when laws are passed that affect them.” The bad news for the writer is that despite the pure logic and common sense of his assumption, it just isn’t so. And the more people realize that laws and regulations promulgated by out of touch bureaucrats and fear-mongering environmentalists deprive them of the consideration they deserve, the stronger becomes the support for our position that people are our greatest natural resources.

The second principle is that personnel is policy. It has an obvious tie to the first. Governor Allen and I place a high value on the contributions of individuals inside government as well as private citizens. We are working hard to make the best use of the diverse talents of the dedicated professionals in our natural resource agencies, in our colleges and universities, and in the private sector. Groups and individuals have an important contribution to make in the process of finding the best solutions to our problems. I always cherish the opportunity to hear the advice and expertise that thoughtful, solution oriented, individuals and groups have to offer. Those individuals closest to the problem are the best prepared to deal with it.

There are examples of this throughout the public and private sectors. Let me share a private sector example of this in Virginia:

Amoco’s refinery in Yorktown discovered that benzene emissions could be reduced to EPA prescribed levels by concentrating efforts on the emissions that occurred at the loading docks. The applicable pollution prevention regulations required a process that cost $41 million dollars to be invested in an enclosed canal system and waste water treatment to trap emissions. The emissions that were occurring at the loading dock accounted for nearly five times as much as the waste water, and could be controlled for one sixth the cost. Current government regulations don’t allow companies the flexibility to implement unique site and situation specific measures to address environmental challenges.

Corporations and individuals know precisely what their sources of waste and pollution are and have real economic and quality of life interests in resolving those issues. What I hear everyday is a plea from good stewards of our environment for regulatory flexibility. They need less government intervention so that they can apply the resources and energy to capitalize on opportunities to improve the quality and condition of our environment in a financially practical way.

Third, a growing economy and a healthy environment are mutually dependent. Without economic growth and technological advancement, there are insufficient resources in both time and money to meet the increasing demands of the public for goods and the requirements of environmental stewardship. The Governor and I formulate public policy on the basis of this principle: Private property rights and responsibilities, the incentives of the marketplace, and the free enterprise system offer the greatest new prospects for improving the environment.

Let me address the property rights issue in a little more detail. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides for “just compensation” for property taken or significantly restricted/devalued by government action. It is no longer only those in the business of agriculture who are painfully aware that the rights of private property are largely ignored. All property owners are at risk of government infringements on their rights in this regard. If your property borders a wildlife refuge or wetlands or provides a home to bald eagles or happens to be waterfront your risks of losing your rights and responsibilities as a property owner are enormous and growing.

I will also demonstrate the interdependence of a thriving economy and a healthy environment. Over the course of the last several decades, when the greatest improvements in our environment have occurred, so too has the economy grown and prospered. Enormous amounts of money, in the form of tax dollars collected from successful businesses, have been spent to achieve the improvement in our environment that we now enjoy. But if we stifle growth by continuing to put a heavier burden on businesses through tax and regulation we will soon discover that the government has lost the tax base necessary to support costly environmental initiatives and that corporations and individuals no longer have the money and time to pursue voluntary efforts.

The fourth principle is that renewable natural resources are inherently dynamic, resilient, and responsive to conservation management. The science of conservation management allows us to improve the quality and condition of our natural resources. Sound science must be the basis of our decision making in natural resources. The improvements we have seen in the Chesapeake Bay are probably the single most impressive testament to the resilience and renewability of our natural resources.

Finally, the fifth principle is that excessive government regulations are injurious to the environment. People and states have a responsibility to collaborate to challenge excessive and injurious regulations. We must devise ways to ensure that the advancement of the arts and sciences of natural resource management are not thwarted by the burden of government regulation.

New York Times reporter, Keith Schneider reported on the Vertac Superfund site in Arkansas. In the mid-l980’s, Governor Bill Clinton authorized EPA to incinerate the dioxin at Vertac. No incinerator can meet the federal standard for burning dioxin which requires that 99.9999% of the substance be destroyed. And so the incinerator ash itself is considered hazardous waste. Since dioxin has to be mixed with other materials in order to be incinerated, two barrels of contaminated ash are produced for each barrel that is burned. This project has cost $25 million so far and may end up costing $150 million. This is a clear example of how ill conceived regulations can actually harm the environment not to mention the economy.

Cost/benefit analysis, risk assessment and flexibility are not incorporated into environmental laws and that must change. State and local control must be allowed so that site and situation specific solutions can be developed and implemented.

You may have noted a Federalist theme in a few of these principles. My area of Natural Resources is at the very vortex of the struggles that define the issue of Federalism. For example, the interpretation of the Clean Air Act provisions are galvanizing the states across the country. States are standing up against unreasonable federal dictates. The lawful acts of Congress require that the states undertake deeds to accomplish reductions in air pollution. Agencies of the federal government -contrary to the principles of Federalism- are insisting that we impose what we in Virginia believe to be wrongheaded mandates on our people and local governments.

In Virginia, we have fought against the intrusion of the federal government. This week I received a letter from Peter Kostmayer, who some of you may know as EPA’s Administrator for Region III. In his letter he informed me that the EPA would no longer permit the state to issue permits to certain categories of stationary sources of emissions. His fundamental reason for disapproving our Title V permitting plan was that Virginia law does not permit people to sue the state over permitting decisions.

There are two major problems with the EPA’s argument: First, the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia considered this exact issue as recently as 1993, and determined that the current laws did in fact provide citizens of Virginia with sufficient means to obtain redress in the courts. And this past July, in a letter to EPA, Attorney General Gilmore concurred.

The second problem with EPA’s argument is that although we appreciate Mr. Kostmayer’s concern for the rights of Virginians it is not the purview of the EPA to overrule the laws in the Code of Virginia as established by an elected citizen legislature.

Clearly, the EPA did not get the message that was sent to Washington by the voters on November 8. It looks like business as usual will continue at the EPA.

This issue is not about the relative merits of clean air, because I also want an improvement in air quality. What this, and many other issues are really about, is the liberty of states and the liberty of the people.

I would encourage you, in your life and in your work, to be vigilant in your defense of Constitutional Liberty. Constitutional Liberty is what has made America distinctive. We must examine every policy and undertake every deed with the peal of the Liberty bell ringing constantly in our ears.