Oversight Hearing on the Relationship Between the Federal and State Governments in the Enforcement of Environmental Laws
June 10, 1997

Good morning. As Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I would like to welcome everyone to the Committee's oversight hearing this morning on the relationship between the Federal and State governments in the enforcement of environmental laws.

A little over four years ago, the Committee held an oversight hearing to examine the respective roles different levels of government should play in the implementation and enforcement of environmental laws. That was the first hearing at which Carol Browner testified as EPA Administrator. At that hearing, she emphasized the essential role States have in environmental enforcement.

Since then, there have been other reports on the need for greater cooperation and communication between the EPA and States in implementation of the Nation's environmental laws. In a 1995 report, for example, the General Accounting Office found that, while the relationship between EPA and the States was then on the upswing, it still had plenty of room for improvement.

That same year, the National Academy of Public Administration issued a report calling for a redefining of the division of labor between EPA and the States. Among other things, the Academy recommended that States which demonstrate superior environmental performance should be granted greater flexibility and autonomy in carrying out environmental programs.

That recommendation, of course, leads to the question of how to assess the level of environmental protection for which a State is providing. It is a much more difficult question to answer than it may first appear. This is because there is growing recognition that the more traditional methods of assessing State enforcement -- such as by counting up the number of enforcement actions filed or the number of penalties imposed -- are inadequate.

States that are trying to attain better results in administering environmental programs increasingly are experimenting with more "carrots" and fewer "sticks." During this transition period, the challenge is to derive new methods by which to evaluate more effectively whether innovative approaches, whether undertaken by EPA or the States, are actually working to achieve better results. To the extent the EPA and States are working on new modes of measurement toward this end, they are to be commended.

Finally, because there are several pending matters in which the EPA or U.S. Justice Department has overfiled against a particular company, a word is in order about pending actions. I would simply remind the members that they should refrain from inquiring into the details of any pending matters. This follows because the hearing is not designed to compromise the rights of parties to a pending matter or to influence the outcome of any such matter.

In that light, I would note the legitimate policy of EPA and the Justice Department not to comment on pending matters. Their silence, or that of any other party, with respect to a pending matter thus should not be construed as anything other than the exercise of prudent discretion.

With that, I welcome the witnesses and look forward to hearing their testimony on these important issues.