Since the beginning of the Trump administration, many of the rules issued by the Obama administration, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule, have been targeted for review. Scott Pruitt and EPA have been in roll-back and repeal mode. However, with the newly announced Smart Sectors Program, EPA seems to be taking a positive approach to dealing with industry and the regulated community instead of merely dealing with previously issued rules.
In general, the Smart Sectors Program is designed to re-establish and enhance communication between the government and the regulated community, which had been lacking for some time. The program seeks to re-examine how EPA engages with industry so that EPA can attempt to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, create certainty and predictability, and improve the ability of both EPA and industry to conduct long-term regulatory planning while also protecting the environment and public health.
EPA plans to designate a staff-level point of contact who is highly knowledgeable about a specific industry sector. That individual will act as a liaison with trade associations, companies within the sector, EPA, state and local governments, and other stakeholders. The initial industrial sectors are: aerospace, agriculture, automotive, cement and concrete, chemical manufacturing, construction, electronics and technology, forestry and paper products, iron and steel, mining, oil and gas, ports and marine, and utilities and power generation.
The EPA sector liaisons will focus their attention on building relationships with the sector, developing additional expertise in the sector, and assisting in planning for future policies and regulations for the sector. EPA believes that this program will be a change in the overall command-and-control approach and create benefits such as long-term certainty as to the regulatory burden, decreased operating costs and even better environmental protection.
This is not the first time this type of approach or program has been advanced by EPA. In the 1990s, as part of the Clinton administration’s plan to reinvent government, EPA came up with the Common Sense Initiative. Later, the second Bush administration created the Sector Strategies Program in 2003, which, among other things, featured the participation of EPA experts in industry operations and communication with industry through regular meetings with trade associations. The Sector Strategies Program was discontinued in 2009.
Despite the fits and starts of similar initiatives over the years and the fact that prior efforts had not borne much fruit, many in industry were cautiously optimistic and voiced general support for the initiation of the Smart Sectors Program. Industry did not seem to have much input at EPA during the Obama administration, so trade groups representing these sectors likely welcome any opportunity to discuss issues directly with EPA. Of course, having enjoyed years of access under the Obama administration, environmental groups will no doubt complain that they may be left out of the discussion and use FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests to obtain records of any meetings associated with the Smart Sectors Program.
Nevertheless, it seems like a good idea to have industry sector experts within EPA who actually communicate with industry about potential regulations and the potential burdens they may create. While many statutes require or create a specific regulatory regime, there is always room to fashion reasonable regulations that are protective of human health and the environment. Perhaps the Smart Sectors Program will provide some help in meeting that goal.