EPA kills plan to let states test new rules Proposal dropped after complaints about its efficacy

March 02, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- In an embarrassing about-face, the Environmental Protection Agency has withdrawn a plan to give states more flexibility in carrying out environmental rules.

The original plan, which called states "a natural laboratory for testing new ideas" and pledged that the federal agency would speedily approve their regulatory innovations, was killed Tuesday by the deputy administrator, Frederic J. Hansen.

The proposal had been drafted after three months of meetings between federal officials and members of the Environmental Council of the States, which is made up of the heads of each state's main environmental agency.

When it was issued in draft form Feb. 14, the agreement had seemed to be on a fast track.

The agency sought comments by March 7, so that a final draft could be approved at a meeting of state environmental leaders in May.

The draft said the states and the federal agency agreed "on the need to experiment with new approaches to improve our nation's environment."

But environmental groups and others said the proposal failed to guarantee that, in return for the extra flexibility, the states would adopt approaches that led to a cleaner environment and not just to cheaper environmental controls.

Hansen said in an interview on Wednesday that the states had been asked only to help develop a mechanism for speeding the correction of minor inefficiencies in regulation.

Instead, he said, the proposal could have been used to circumvent virtually any regulation or statute, "anything under the sun."

The rejection of the proposal threatens to renew strains between the federal and state agencies.

Members of the Environmental Council of the States have bristled at criticism from top federal officials, who have repeatedly complained that some states have not been aggressively enforcing federal laws.

To try to mollify the state officials, the EPA had been trying to demonstrate good faith in seeking partnerships rather than confrontations.

The attempt to give the states additional control and flexibility was part of that effort.

But the effort seemed to have broken down, with the states complaining that the federal agency was unjustifiably requiring them to demonstrate how they would spend any savings stemming from their innovations.

Pub Date: 3/02/97

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