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What is Happening in the States

What is Happening in the States
Institute for Political Leadership
October 9, 1997
Becky Norton Dunlop

It is indeed a pleasure for me to be here to talk about Virginia. One of the reasons I like to talk about Virginia is because we’re doing wonderful things to improve the environment in Virginia.

I’ve learned a lot from working with President Reagan and part of what he taught me was that you can communicate effectively with people if you use graphics so we have some graphics to share with you. I know that I have more material than I have time. So, Angela I’m just going to depend on you to tug on my sleeve when you want me to quit.

First of all, as Secretary of Natural Resources in Virginia there are eight state agencies over which I have oversight responsibilities. The largest and most controversial of my agencies is the Department of Environmental Quality.

From 1994, when Gov. George Allen took office, until today, we have seen a growing economy in Virginia with the creation of 211,000 net new jobs. Fifty-seven percent of that is expansion of existing facilities. Now, why is that important? Because it so beautifully illustrates that not only have we had a growing economy in Virginia, we’ve also had an improving environment. And we’re going to both show and explain to you the facts that demonstrate this truth.

In Virginia, we have said from the beginning that a growing economy and an improving environment go hand in hand. Wealthier is healthier. And we have proved it under Gov. George Allen.

Agency Reform: Decentralization

At the start of the Allen Administration, we began our reform efforts by focusing on structural change at the Department of Environmental Quality, our EPA if you will. We believe that the government that is closest to the people is the government that governs best. If you are dealing with a state agency, how can you implement such a philosophy effectively? Well, by decentralizing the agency, going from a huge bureaucracy in Richmond to several regional offices.

We decentralized DEQ and put people into six regions of the state, creating six regional offices out of twenty-one previous offices and greatly downsizing the central office staff.

The rationale and logic of this was if you move state employees out into the state, they could more easily be accessed by those who are being regulated and by citizens who are concerned about the environment in their community.

We also transformed DEQ into an agency that was organized by function.

Previously, DEQ had been an agency that had an air program and 18 air offices in the state. In the air program you had permitting and compliance and enforcement and remediation; you name it, that activity was in the air program. Then there was the waste program with all those same activities and separate offices.

And then there was the water program with its same but separate activities in separate offices around the state.

Our administration reviewed these media specific activities, the goals of the overall environmental regulatory program, and concluded that these various people, programs and activities needed to work together, across media, and so we restructured the agency by function.

DEQ now has a permitting staff and on that permitting staff are people with expertise in air, water, and waste. When you go into one of our regional offices to get a permit to build a facility or add on to a facility, you go to one office where they do permitting and you sit down with an individual or with a team of people who will then go over with you what the law requires in Virginia and help -a new word in the vocabulary of regulatory regimes– you understand what the requirements are for your business.

We also have compliance and enforcement teams. We have remediation teams.

The agency is now organized by function so people who go to one of the regional offices can deal with people in the specific functional area where they are having the particular problem.

The central office of DEQ continues to be housed in downtown Richmond, but is no longer called headquarters -actually, it’s called headquarters by the remaining command-and-control bureaucrats. Now it’s called the central office, and its role is a support function. Technical assistance people are housed there; some scientists are housed there; and programs that don’t fit within any particular region of the state, but are cross-cutting like the Chesapeake Bay program, are housed in the central office. Now the central office staffs’ job is to support the regional staff and to enable that regional staff to do the agency job well and in a timely manner.

No longer do we hire people and put them in a regional office and say, “you write permits and send them to Richmond. We have layers of middle managers who are going to check your work.” We eliminated those layers of people. We now say to the people in the regions: “We’re going to hire you because you have the expertise. We’re going to give you the authority that goes along with the responsibility that you’ve always had to make decisions and use common sense and flexibility. The law affords you the opportunity to get people the permits they need, properly done and in a timely way, as well as working to get them into compliance or helping them stay in compliance.”

We have also instituted a compliance first policy in Virginia. Compliance first is an interesting concept. What happens if you get people in compliance with environmental laws and regulations? The environment improves!

Why would any agency of government not have a compliance first policy? Astonishingly, most don’t. EPA certainly doesn’t. But now in Virginia we have a compliance first policy. A compliance first policy helps the regulated community understand the laws and regulations. It also helps them come into compliance. The second thing that happens when you get businesses into compliance is your enforcement cases go down. You don’t have to enforce against people who are in compliance do you? You probably do if your whole mission is “gotcha” or your whole mission is how many fines can you collect today. That’s not what we do in Virginia anymore. In Virginia, we’re interested in improving the environment. We now have a decentralized agency with a functional structure. Our focus is on customer service -helping our citizens and our businesses get in compliance.

Environmental Programs

I have identified some of the programs where we have had major improvements since 1994: air quality, water quality, and monitoring our petroleum program; our voluntary remediation program, which is to replace the fantastically failed superfund program; our voluntary audit law; our waste-tire program; and lastly, our Brownfields remediation program.

Air Quality

In 1993 -this is the year before George Allen took office - Virginia had five nonattainment areas under the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality standards. Today, only Northern Virginia remains in nonattainment for ozone. Now, this chart is important for a couple of reasons. First, it shows you that 1988 has a huge spike in it. This is the year that generated so much excitement that two years later in 1990 Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments. Second, and most importantly, for our purpose today, is the good news for Virginia. In 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997, the Allen Administration participated in efforts that resulted in dramatically reducing the number of hours in the Commonwealth in which the ozone standard is exceeded. This is during a period of time, let me remind you again, that the economy has been growing, more development has occurred, more products moving up and down the east coast transportation corridors, more traffic and air quality improved nonetheless.

Only Northern Virginia remains in nonattainment for ozone. Some of you who live in this area might recall earlier this year when we had two days in a row on which Code Red alerts were issued, and indeed, on those two days the ozone standard was exceeded. EPA says air quality with ozone at levels such that a Code Red is issued is dangerous for people. When there was a Code Red alert announced for the third day in a row, I wrote a letter to the federal government asking the Clinton Administration to help us out. Would the federal government do its part to help us not have a third day in a row of unhealthy air quality, another day in which the ozone standard was exceeded at levels determined to be dangerous by closing the D.C. area offices except for essential personnel? You know what reaction I got? Well, ozone must not be quite as dangerous as snow because, first of all, the federal government does not have an ozone emergency plan. That is Bill Clinton’s government doesn’t have an ozone emergency plan. And you know what else I found out mattered to the Clinton Administration? Closing the federal government in Washington, D.C., except for essential personnel costs a lot of money, I was told by the senior Clinton Administration officials. So the bottom line is that the federal government, the government that sets the standards, the government that says this level of ozone is dangerous to the health of the citizens of our country, including federal employees’, declined to do anything to help us not have another Code Red day in Northern Virginia. In fact, Mike McCurry, the President Press Secretary, said that it would do no good to close the federal government and urge employees to stay home because, “they would go to Tyson’s corner (shopping center).”

In Virginia, Governor Allen had taken action to reduce the activities that state workers would engage in so that we would not contribute to the ozone problem. We also asked companies to take voluntary actions. You see, we in Virginia did not set the standard. If we do not meet the standard, however, then our citizens have to take expensive actions such as paying twenty dollars every two years to have their automobiles inspected on enhanced emission inspection equipment. If we in Virginia do not have a plan to meet the standard, a plan that is approved by EPA, then they take away the highway dollars that Virginians have sent to Washington in the form of gasoline taxes for road building projects. We take very seriously the ozone readings in Northern Virginia and regret that the federal government is not willing to be a helpful partner. This is not something, however, that surprises me, as you might imagine.

Now the second area that I wanted to touch on -Angela talked about briefly- is the emissions testing program in Northern Virginia. When Gov. Allen took office, the previous administration had already committed to putting in place in Northern Virginia the “centralized government-run test only facilities” where you would take your car. And you would be forced to sit in a long line, because there would be only 12 of them for the half a million cars in Northern Virginia that have to be tested annually. So you get to sit in a long line that would be very good for the audiotape business.

Secondly, if you failed -and this test is designed to fail more cars than it passes- then you have to go off to a service station that would not have the same equipment because they wouldn’t be able to afford this equipment and get yours repaired as you hoped. Now, because they didn’t have the same equipment, they could not test to make sure that you would pass when you went back. So now you have to go back and get in line again. Then after you sit in line and you have your car retested, you hope that it passes because if it doesn’t, then you get ping-ponged back and forth until it does pass or until you spend the requisite amount of money that effectively buys you a waiver. When Gov. Allen came into office, and I came into office, we said wait a minute, this is not good for the environment. Idling polluting cars, sitting in long lines and waiting for government contractors to test them is bad for the environment. And you know something else? When it offends your constitutes and they are going to try to figure out how to get out of it, it’s bad law!

So we sat down and negotiated with EPA, and we said we want our service stations to be able to continue to do this. No, no, no…you can’t trust service stations. They will fail cars that should pass in order to get the repair work. That’s what they said the first time. We came a couple of months later and the negotiator told EPA we had devised a fail-safe way to make sure that they do not fail cars that should pass. Well, then what they’ll do is pass cars that should fail to keep their customers happy. The bottom line is that EPA did not and does not trust small businessmen. They believed them to be dishonest. We do not! As a rule, do you have bad actors? Yes, in every line of work and you try to put in place enforcement mechanisms which we have in place in Northern Virginia to make sure that you’re double checking that.

Ultimately, we were successful. One huge reason why we were successful was the 1994 congressional elections. I would like to say that we prevailed on the basis of our intelligence or that we prevailed on the basis of our logic; but frankly, it was the 1994 elections that enabled us to win this and we will now have garage testing continue in Northern Virginia.

Another battle that we fought and won came when we defeated the California Low Emission Vehicle being forced on Northern Virginia. Two weeks after I took office, we went to a meeting where the northeastern states were saying yes, force the California car on the NE of the United States and Northern Virginia. But don’t force the California cars’ gasoline on us because that will make it too expensive for our citizens. So these people in the Environmental Protection Agency were prepared to force a car on the people of Northern Virginia, as well as the NE states, that was designed to use a special gasoline, but they were not going to force the use of that special gasoline.

This does not seem logical to us in Virginia. It would also not work for air quality, nor for the economy and the citizens. We stood up and said, “Why don’t we work with the automobile manufacturers and have them develop a 49-state car that has lower emissions that will improve the air quality for everyone and just let California do what they want to do.” Well, that was objected to, and objected to, and objected to, for about two years. But you know something? It finally was approved. Mary Nichols left office recently and on one of her exit interviews, she said one of her greatest achievements was the 49-state national low-emissions vehicle. Well, I’m thankful for her work on this, even if it came late in the day.

Water Quality

Science underlies Virginia’s policies on the environment. When you’re talking about water quality, what’s the best way to get good science? You go out and you monitor the water quality. Since Gov. Allen has been in office, we have increased our monitoring stations from 896 to over 1,000 -by over 20 percent. We’re getting better scientific data because we’re out monitoring in more locations.

It’s very difficult to tell on this map of Virginia, but there’s a little triangle everywhere we’re monitoring water quality, and I can tell you that triangles are all over Virginia. We monitor more river miles in Virginia -29,000 plus- than any other state according to the latest EPA data.

And yet, political operatives in the Commonwealth of Virginia criticize our water program.

If, as a result of increasing both the locations and miles that you monitor, you discover additional places where you have water quality problems, it’s just wrong to be criticized for those discoveries. I mean…that’s shooting the messenger.

How many career-state employees do you know who will want to be messengers if that’s how they’re treated when they come to the Capitol? I don’t know too many. We’ve stood up on this and said our water program is a good water program -a program that is based on science. And we’re going to continue on this course, but we’ll be happy to take any advice that someone wants to provide to us because you can always improve. In Virginia, our decisions are being made on good scientific data, not just political rhetoric.

Waste and Land Management

We have turned our waste-tire program of Virginia to a market-based program. When we took office, the whole idea by the liberals in Virginia was that we should figure out how to use waste tires to subsidize innovative industries that used waste tires. Well, this is an environmental program folks, this is not an industrial policy. Let’s target the most dollars going out the door from the waste-tire program to people who are cleaning up massive tire piles in Virginia. Well, we did that. It was controversial. We have, however, had a very successful program and my folks are reporting that in 1995 alone, we recycled and beneficially used 5,830,000 tires and in 1996 7,606,200 tires. The point is that we have been eliminating huge tire piles in the Commonwealth, which are real environmental hazards. This is the success and it’s because we went to a market-based program.

When Gov. Allen took office our underground storage tank program was in crisis management. We had a requirement to clean up underground storage tanks in Virginia, yet the backlog was enormous of people who had tried to do something, who would come in to try to file a plan or who had actually spent money or wanted to spend money, but couldn’t get their remediation plan approved. We looked at this and we analyzed. We developed a risk-based, science-driven program and put it in place within a year. We out-sourced the program that would reimburse people instead of having state employees do this. And we ended up with a tremendous success story. The number of sites that we’ve closed is up 250 percent in the Commonwealth.

If you just look at this chart on reimbursements, the average processing time is down 80 percent. It doesn’t tell you, but we’re now below 60 days. When I took office I had members of the General Assembly calling me. My constituents had a reimbursement request in for two years. I mean…these are mom-and-pop operations. They can’t afford to have their money tied up by the state for two years. This is a tremendous success. The key element has been that we’ve gone to worst-case-science-driven program management. We have a policy now. Our people who work on this program are out in the regions. They have the authority and the flexibility to make decisions based on science and based on risks. It has a tremendous success. Again, it’s customer service driven. We’re out working with the people on the front line.

In Virginia, we put in place a voluntary remediation program. Why? Because the federal Superfund program is a failure. In Virginia, there have been two sites - two out of the 28 Superfund sites in the Commonwealth - that have been de-listed. Now, if the EPA people were here today, and I suspect that there’s at least one, they would stand up and tell you how successful the program has been. But there have been only two sites de-listed and if you’re not de-listed, you’re still on the Superfund list, and that does not make for productive use. The voluntary remediation program that the Allen administration championed had bi­partisan support in the General Assembly and was passed in 1995. Since then, we have negotiated voluntary remediation agreements for 35 sites. We already have nine sites that have completed their clean up and we’re now in negotiation for 67 additional voluntary remediation agreements. This is a great success. It is going to take sites that have been both contaminated and unused back into productive use and back on the tax rolls.

And we also passed a program to encourage local communities to receive tax benefits for taking care of what we commonly call Brownfield sites in their communities.

Additional Reforms

Let me now just briefly, and I do mean briefly, mention that I have other agencies and I just wanted to touch on a few things that we’re doing in my other agencies, because they are also natural resource and environmental agencies.

In the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries we have many, many private and landowner agreements, as well as working relationships with the private sector. We have established relationships with the Wild Turkey Federation, Quail Unlimited, and deer hunters. We’re working together more effectively with these private citizen-based groups. Wildlife has been enhanced in Virginia. There are more deer in Virginia now than there was when John Smith landed and more than there were in the l950s. In Fairfax County, some would say there are too many. But that is your problem because you elect the people who run that county.

We have more wild turkey in Virginia than we had in the 1950s. We also have responsible turkey hunters who come to the public hearings and talk about changes in the regulations that will enhance the turkey population. They don’t come and say that they want to be able to kill more turkeys if they are concerned about the turkey population in their particular region of the state.

Regarding our wildlife magazine, we told them that if they wanted a magazine and the state was going to run it, then the agency had to cut the production cost and increase subscription. Which means what? They had to go out and talk to its customers. It had to be a magazine that appealed to the people who would buy it. Subscriptions are up 25 percent in the last two years. This tells you that Virginia is focused on listening to its citizens.

When I arrived the Department of Historic Resources was a command-and-control agency. If you owned a piece of historic property, but you weren’t rich, all you wanted to do is to figure out how to get rid of it. You were afraid the state would come in and tell you no, you can’t do this; no, you can’t do that; you must do this; you must do that. And, you didn’t have the money to do those things. We have turned the Dept. of Historic Resources into an agency that goes out and works with the citizens and shares with them how preserving and investing in historic resources can actually prove to be an economic boom. And because our team at DHR has changed the culture of the agency and made the effort to do this, we now have more people working harder to preserve and protect the historic cites and artifacts in the Commonwealth than ever before.

A second great success story surrounds the fact that they were out growing their offices. I said we’re not going to build any new state buildings. They went to the Virginia Historical Society and struck a deal. The Virginia Historical Society on Boulevard Avenue in Richmond, VA went out and privately raised $7 million to build a new wing. That new wing will house the Dept. of Historic Resources. And why did the partnership work? Because right now the Dept. of Historic Resources has boxes of artifacts in warehouses inaccessible to the citizens, inaccessible to those who love history. And we said to VHS that we would allow you to show our artifacts in your galleries. It’s a partnership that’s worked. DHR will get a new headquarters building.

By the way, they have also de-centralized and now have field offices in four communities and partnership agreements at no additional cost to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth.

Our soil and water conservation districts, as well as our parks, are in the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

This is a department where we sought to test privatization. The General Assembly only allowed me to proceed with the transfer of George Washington Grist Mill Historical State Park to Mt. Vernon-they blocked everything else. What could be a more appropriate privatization? More people will now see the Grist Mill and understand the history of that period. It’s a win for the citizens. Mt. Vernon has added a new asset that will enable them to tell a better story about one of our greatest Presidents, and the Commonwealth taxpayers will no longer be footing the bill to manage this park facility.

There are many, many other examples that we have. We’ll be able to share some of them with you today. We put together a little document for you to take with you if you are interested. It does not, however, begin to tell the story of the things that we have done in the Commonwealth to make a difference, to make the environment and our natural resources prosper so our economy grows, our citizens have jobs and freedom and liberty is enhanced. I am thrilled to be here to talked to you about this.

The key message to those of you in this room today is freedom and liberty is the best environment under which natural resources and our environment can be improved and enhanced. Thank you all very much and thank you for your time.