Innovation Can Stretch Tight Budgets to Achieve Environmental Goals

December 17, 2002

Law professor Jon Cannon served as moderator at the conference.

Because federal and state environmental agencies are now dealing with tightened budgets, innovative environmental programs should focus on improving the efficiency of core regulatory programs rather than coming up with alternative solutions to meeting requirements, some environmental officials suggested at the Conference on Federal-State Cooperation in Environmental Innovation, co-sponsored by the Law School Dec. 11-12. Environmental agencies are struggling to balance core environmental regulatory programs with innovative programs, but the goals of both may be met under such a plan, while also possibly saving costs.

Held at the University's Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church, the meeting featured a dialogue between state and federal environmental agency officials, business representatives and NGOs on federal-state cooperation in regulatory innovation and issues facing the "next generation" environmental programs.

In the last three decades of the 20th century, the United States passed and implemented a dozen federal environmental regulatory statutes, covering issues from clean air and clean water to contaminated sites and toxic releases. These statutes have contributed to a cleaner environment, but in recent years they have been frequently criticized for their inefficiency and rigidity as well as less-than-satisfactory environmental results. In response, both the Environmental Protection Agency and the states have embraced innovative measures seeking to increase the efficiency of environmental programs while also improving environmental benefits.

These innovations have encountered resistance, however, both from environmentalists, many of whom believe that they mean less environmental protection and accountability, and from industry groups, many of which believe that the innovations have been too slow and too costly to make a real difference.

"The natural tension between innovative programs and the core programs grows more acute when budgets are tight," said program moderator Jon Cannon, a law professor and director of Environmental Programs at the Law School.

EPA Deputy Administrator Linda Fisher outlined three challenges facing innovative programs in written remarks presented to the meeting: finding the right balance between core programs and innovative efforts, holding innovative programs accountable and making sure they provide the same or similar environmental protections, and measuring the results of innovative programs.

"The keys to success in environmental innovation," Cannon said, "are creating trust in its ability to deliver environmental results as well as improved efficiency and keeping transaction costs low for those who want to participate."

Panelists included Jay Benfarado, Director of the EPA's National Center for Environmental Innovation, Samantha Fairchild, Director of the Office of Enforcement, Compliance and Environmental Justice for the EPA's Region III, and Harry Gregori, Assistant to the Director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Other sponsors of the event were the EPA, the Multi-State Working Group, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Small Business Assistance Program.

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