The Clean Air Act (CAA) was built on the principle of "cooperative federalism" in which the federal government and individual States would work together to control air pollution and improve air quality. When enacting the CAA in 1970, Congress found that "air pollution prevention ... and air pollution control at its source is the primary responsibility of States and local governments" and that "Federal financial assistance and leadership is essential for the development of cooperative Federal, State, regional, and local programs to prevent and control air pollution (42 U.S.C. § 7401)." As a federal appeals court recently explained, "Congress chose a balanced scheme of state-federal interaction to implement the goals of the Clean Air Act." Thus far, this symbiotic approach has served the nation well, with air quality improving substantially since the CAA was established over forty years ago.
This report shows the attempts made by President Barack Obama's Administration (EPA specifically) to phase out State and local involvement, and also what the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Republicans are doing to maintain and uphold cooperative federalism, one of the cornerstones of the CAA.
In recent years, assertions have increasingly been made that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), instead of cooperating with the States as equal and valued partners under the CAA, is diminishing the role of the States. Since 2009, a majority of States have expressed concerns on a variety of fronts about EPA's failure to adhere to the CAA's cooperative federalism design.
For instance, States are troubled by EPA's practice of entering closed-door, secretive "sue and settle" arrangements, in which environmental organizations particularly friendly to this Administration will sue the federal government, claiming that its regulatory obligations have not been satisfied. In the ensuing negotiations, States are not included in the discussion as new regulations are created. Evidence suggests that EPA entered more "sue and settle" agreements during this Administration's first term than all three previous presidential terms combined. In addition, States are concerned that EPA is pursuing the unilateral revoking of long-standing, well-accepted provisions of State air quality programs. The data show that the current Administration is rejecting an unprecedented number of State Implementation Plan provisions. It is also apparent that EPA is imposing unreasonable timeframes for the States to review and comment on upcoming, complex EPA regulations; EPA is not providing equal treatment to the States in responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests; and EPA has created significant uncertainty among the States by prematurely reconsidering national air quality standards.
The EPW Committee Minority Report discusses this Administration's growing failure to adhere to the cooperative federalism approach in working with States as established in the CAA, and also chronicles many of the recent concerns raised by States about EPA actions contrary to this principle. EPW Republicans also evaluate actions and conclude with possible solutions that should be considered to address these concerns.