Time to Decentralize EPA

Report Environment

Time to Decentralize EPA

March 17, 1983 3 min read Download Report
Paul T.
F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy

(Archived document, may contain errors)

3/17/83 17 JIME -T0_...-DECENTRAL-IZE_. EPA..

The controversy at the Environmental Protection Agency'has obscured the real issue and diverted the Reagan Administration's attention from it. At question is not whether the environment should be protected. All sides agree on this. The real issue is strat egy. Conservatives favor a policy that eliminates. unnecessary federal government interven@ion imposing enormous costs -@ith little benefit and that shifts services and functions to state and l ocal governments. This gives officials on the spot the incentive to writ@e rules reflecting the needs of their community. Liberals,'on the 'othek hand, generally feel that a strong centralized government should dictate national environmental policy. The-R eagan Administration is--or is supposed to be--committed to decentralize EPA and make it into an oversigR body. Most of the EPA bureaucracy wants to centralize power in Washing@on and-in their own hands.

The structure of EPA has turned what should@have bee n an honest difference of approach into an environmental gunfight. The agency is divided into five major program areas,.administeiing an alphabet soup of overlapping and often contradictory laws. This Structure discourages technical innovation in pollutio n control and leAves little room for innovation 'at the local level. No wonder Washiniton has been inundated with business and environmental groups trying to:change things. No wonder that EPA seems like an executive agency out of control, unable to impleme n t its mandate. What can be done? It is time 'to recognize that'EPA's problems are structural, not one of personalities. Congress @hould move quickly to redesign the agency, transfer more functions to the states, where rules would fit reality, and limit EV A itself to overs6eing broad national standards implemented by the states. Among the 6pecific changes needed: 1) Eliminate the media (air, noise and radi@Ltion; water; solid waste. and emergency response and pesticides and toxic 'substances) divisional pol i cy research offices. Because they are not connected with the central Office of Policy and Resource Management, this leads to contradictory policies. 2) Transfer all but 40 of the Washington He 'adquarters' attorneys to the regions where-they are needed. T he bulk of EPA litigation is in the regions, not in Washington.


3).Revoke the "Memorandum of Understanding" between EPA'and the Justice Department, whereby Justice has responsibility for.litigating EPA cases. EPA has dozens of under-utilized-triai at torneys, while Justice's environmental legal staff is overworked and less knowledgeable. The result: few cases go to litigation. 4) Audit every grant issued by the agency during the Reagan Adminis- tration. This includes Carter-era grants whose reimbursem e nts were made by this Administration. The EPA grant program is extremely inefficient and loosely monitored. The list of grantees and the subjects of their research might provide clues for further reform. 5) Continue decentralization of appropriate functio n s and responsibil- ities to the states, leaving international and most interstate matters to be handled in Washington. The federal government should finance the process of transferring functions to the states.. The environment is best protected if local o f ficials accept responsibility for the burdens of locally caused environmental pollution. 6) Establish an aggressive legi slative strategy for streamlining the nation's environmental laws to remove costly.contradictions and discouragement of.local initiati v e,in'developing disposal and protection techniques. 7) Encourage profitable uses of wastewater, sludge and other pollutants by permitting environmentally safe'private sector alternatives to govern- ment programs.. With rare exceptions, the private sector c an protect the environment better and cheaper than the government--if it has the incentive to do so. 8) Appoint a bipartisan councilto review the entire EPA administra- tion and field structure to determine what precise format will best serve America's ne e ds into the next decade. This repoit should be published by January 1, 1985. EPA's current turmoil offers the opportunity to repair the structural faults at the agency. Concentrated regulatory power invariably leads to power politics, battles between cons umers and producers and political grandstanding. The real solution is clear--move the power and responsi- bility, where possible, to state and local offica",als. They are more sensitive to local concerns than any federal burieaucrat can be.

Paul-T. Langerman Policy Analyst

For additional information see: "Potential Impacts of Reducing the-Environmental Protection Agency's Budg et," General-Accounting Office Report No. GAO/RCED-83-75, December 30t 1982. Lawrence Mosher, "Distrust of Gorsuch May Stymie EPA Attempt to Integrate Pollutions Wars," National Journal, February 12, 1983, p. 322. "A Fresh Start for the EPA," Business Wee k, March 21, 1983, p. 156.



Paul T.

F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy

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