Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Is the Environmental Council of the States Becoming a Too Cozy with Big Polluters?

Next week at the posh Hotel Monaco in D.C., state environmental officials from around the country will gather to discuss such topics as "States and U.S. EPA Working Together – Delivering Environmental Protection in an Era of Constrained Resources" and "Electric Reliability and Public Health – Are They Mutually Exclusive?" See meeting agenda at

It is a regular meeting of the group known as the Environmental Council of the States, or ECOS, which describes its reason for existence as follows:

The purpose of ECOS is to improve the capability of state environmental agencies and their leaders to protect and improve human health and the environment of the United States of America.

Our belief is that state government agencies are the keys to delivering environmental protection afforded by both federal and state law. Further, we believe that ECOS plays a critical role in facilitating a quality relationship between federal and state agencies in the fulfillment of that mission. That role is defined as:

Articulate, advocate, preserve and champion the role of the states in environmental management; and
Provide for the exchange of ideas, views and experiences among states and with others; and
Foster cooperation and coordination in environmental management; and
Articulate state positions to Congress, federal agencies, and the public on environmental issues.

Given that we are in the middle of a Presidential campaign and one of the candidates calls for "reducing the size and reach of the federal government, and returning power to the states and the people" it might be worth taking a moment to examine this key state group.

Let's start by looking at the ECOS meeting's high-profile polluter sponsors (euphemistically described as "environmental supporters") which include American Chemistry Council, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Edison Electric Institute, NEDA/CAP and Smithfield Foods, Inc. (If you've never heard of NEDA-CAP, by the way, please note This is a polluter group whose members include ExxonMobil and Koch Industries.)

It might be fair to ask if ECOS is becoming a little too cozy with big polluters -- or at the least providing a vehicle for polluters to influence both federal and state environmental policy.

One of the key events on the ECOS agenda: Sponsored Wine and Hors d’Oeuvre Reception for State Officials and Sponsors

Beyond pouring the wine, do these corporate sponsors have any influence here?

Since ECOS notes one of its main functions is to communicate with Congress and federal agencies, it is interesting to peruse recent ECOS letters to Congress and the US EPA

Some of these reflect the understandable and self-serving state mantra of "give us more money," but consider the March 2, 2012 letter urging EPA to contest environmentalists attempts to speed up final rules on coal waste. Or an earlier letter supporting industry-friendly legislation on coal waste. In another move that dovetails with industry concerns, ECOS enthusiastically embraced an Obama plan to review and "reform" existing regulations. And its one thought on EPA's critical mercury/toxics standards for power plants was to complain about possible costs to states.

The recent ECOS report, The States View of the Air Quality
is a not-very-subtle shot at the American Lung Association's State of the Air Report. The state rejoinder, whose theme is that things really aren't so bad, could have been penned by the Edison Electric Institute or the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricty. (The report was written by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, whose assistant commissioner formerly was a lobbyist for Peabody Coal Company. )

Yet another apparent sign of industry influence: in next week's panel discussion of "electric reliability and public health" there is NO representative from the public health community, though the panel includes representatives from sponsors Edison Electric Institute and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

The panel does include EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy and former EPA Regional Administrator Mary Gade, who won our admiration for resigning when Bush administration bigwigs apparently tried to block enforcement against Dow Chemical Company

Still, the absence on the panel of someone from the American Lung Association or the Natural Resources Defense Council is pretty glaring.

Then again, health groups aren't paying for the event.

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