Desperate Times, Desperate Measures? Massachusetts Environmental Agencies Look to Reinvent Themselves

On the be careful what you wish for front, Massachusetts Energy and Environment Secretary Ian Bowles announced yesterday an effort to examine “options for changes in administrative structures and programs to meet environmental goals in light of budget challenges.” The announcement identifies three separate areas of investigation:

Public-Private Partnerships – This makes a lot of sense, but, based on the announcement, seems to be too narrowly focused. The announcement indicates that the review will focus on management of properties owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. However, we shouldn’t just be looking at whether to let Disney sponsor the Freedom Trail. For example, I am on the board of the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, a public-private partnership that leverages private money to assist publicly funded wetlands restoration projects. Surely, there are other, similar opportunities to enlist the private sector in in financing EEA programs.

New Regulatory Models – Here is where the rubber meets the road for most of us attorneys and our clients. The announcement mentions MassDEP’s very successful privatization of our state Superfund program, Chapter 21E, and asks whether there are other opportunities for similar innovations. Some thoughts:

Greater use of general permits.

Other opportunities to privatize, such as inspections and audit functions. Naysayers will raise concerns about the independence of third-party inspections, but it’s a false dichotomy to contrast a world of perfect inspections by DEP with a system of private inspections. Audits and inspections would occur with much greater regularity if regulated facilities were required to pay a third party to audit their facilities every year.  Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

Greater consistency in agency decision-making. I don’t think that EEA or DEP realize the costs imposed by their failed efforts to rein in street level bureaucrats who have their own ideas as to what good policy is.

Spend less time writing new guidance and let qualified professionals exercise their professional judgment without wasting precious agency time questioning whether a regulated entity used the proper font in its latest submittal (sorry, rhetorical excess alert).

Reorganization/Consolidation of State Agencies

Secretary Bowles, Commissioner Burt, and others involved should be commended for undertaking this effort. It would be great if the current budget crisis could be turned into a real opportunity for reform. As I’ve said on other occasions, this should be a Nixon-in-China moment for regulatory reform

Carpe diem.

2 thoughts on “Desperate Times, Desperate Measures? Massachusetts Environmental Agencies Look to Reinvent Themselves

  1. In contrast to MA, other states like NY and CA have managed to consolidate their umbrella reviews of major energy projects. For example, when its “Article X” process was in effect, the SEQR process in NY was rolled into the Siting Board review.I have yet to hear a convincing argument in favor of the MA approach of sequencing two umbrella reviews-Siting Board and MEPA.

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