Industry Waits for EPA Leader to Test his Mettle

WASTE INDUSTRY LEADERS from both the public and private sectors think President George W. Bush's appointment of Michael Leavitt as the new administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could be their ace in the hole — as long as he continues to support states' rights. Leavitt, the Republican governor of Utah, is a federalist who generally favors states' rights over federal environmental enforcement.

Devolution, the term for devolving power from federal government to the states, has been going on for some time, particularly in the health care industry, according to Bruce Parker, president of the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA), Washington, D.C. “Whether [devolution] helps business remains to be seen,” he says, “but there's more flexibility built into that kind of a system. We don't know yet what type of an administrator Leavitt will make until he starts making policies, but the EIA believes that if he's confirmed, he deserves to demonstrate his competency and his abilities. He deserves a fair chance.”

According to John Skinner, executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md., his members are most affected by Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which he says has been delegated to the states already. The federal EPA role is important, but it is limited to standard setting and research, whereas states already are responsible for implementation.

“I can envision several positive impacts [Leavitt's agenda] could have on the solid waste field,” Skinner says. “For example, one proposal currently under consideration is the RD&D [research, development and demonstration] rule, where states would be able to waive certain aspects of the Subtitle D regulations to encourage research and development. This appears very consistent with Gov. Leavitt's sovereignty preferences. Also, I understand he has championed what is referred to as the Enlibra Principles of environmental management, which use financial incentives rather than regulations. This could open the door to the waste sector to propose financial incentives, such as tax credits for use of recycled material or investments in recycling equipment.”

Although Leavitt's philosophies could allow solid waste business to grow through the flexibility of incentives in each state, the political climate he faces likely will be stormy. Critics already say Bush's choice is further polarizing party politics in Washington, D.C., and environmentalists are calling Leavitt on the carpet for what they say is a heavily pro-industry track record in areas of mining, timber, oil and gas.

“I'm sure his confirmation hearing will not be a bed of roses,” Parker says. “Democrats will challenge his position as a Western governor. And Leavitt is pro-growth and pro industry, so he'll need to balance the needs of environmentalists.”

At press time, Leavitt's senate confirmation hearings were scheduled for September.