The regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency was in Bismarck Tuesday to tell the oil and coal industries that the agency wants to work with them.
Doug Benevento’s message was one of cooperation and where possible, improved or reduced regulations. He held two roundtable discussions as part of the Trump administration's Smart Sectors program, a national effort that encourages collaborating with regulated industries.
The present administration has taken a different approach to the EPA. During Barack Obama’s presidency the EPA was frankly considered the enemy by the energy industries and many in government. Obama was seen as promoting a green agenda that threatened the future of industries, especially coal.
President Donald Trump has changed policies and has been a cheerleader for coal. Overall, Benevento found receptive audiences in Bismarck. He has been involved in energy and environmental issues for Xcel Energy and headed the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. He was appointed to his EPA position in 2017.
Dave Glatt, chief of the Environmental Health Section for the Department of Health, praised the present relationship with the EPA, but voiced concern about the EPA under future administrations. He said the state and industries must work with the EPA to set the groundwork for the future so there aren’t drastic changes when administrations change.
Benevento told the audience that his job is making certain state agencies are meeting the minimum federal requirements. His message was the Trump administration isn’t going to micromanage the states. That was welcome news to most present at the meetings. The meetings were open to the public, but the EPA didn't announce them publicly until Monday.
There’s no doubt that the EPA has been influenced by the politics of the different presidential administrations over the years. The Obama administration was difficult for state government and industry while more friendly to environmental groups. The stark differences between the Obama and Trump administrations could be seen with their handling of the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL Pipeline. President George W. Bush’s administration was closer to Trump’s approach than Obama’s.
So the flip-flops between administrations make it difficult to have a consistent policy for more than four to eight years. It would be nice if the EPA was an independent agency not swayed by politics, but it’s doubtful either political party would be agreeable.
That means state agencies, industry and environmental groups need to find ways to work with the Trump administration. It should be a lot easier for the state and industry than other groups. The state and industry should like the relationship. It will likely put more responsibility on state agencies as the administration relaxes controls. Environmental groups may have to make their cases to the state and not expect relief from the federal government.
Glatt’s concerns are valid. If Trump doesn’t win another term, EPA policies could change in a little more than two years. If he does win, the window of opportunity will be longer.
In a free society government tends to be messy. The EPA is an example of that and we’ll just have to adjust.