A Follow-up On Regulatory Reform in Massachusetts: Secretary Bowles Starts to Get Some Suggestions

As I discussed last week, in response to the current dire state fiscal outlook, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy & Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles announced, pursuant to a request from Governor Patrick, a search for “options for departmental reorganization and consolidation, streamlined operations and procedures, and new models for doing the public’s business.” Given that Secretary Bowles has invited public assistance, it should not be too surprising that some folks have stepped up to the plate, so I thought I would share submittals that I have seen. 

Recently, both NAIOP and the Environmental League of Massachusetts have made suggestions to Secretary Bowles. Before going further, I should note that I need to be a little more circumspect here that I might normally be, because I do advise NAIOP on regulatory reform issues and I’m on the board of ELM. Since that is the case, you’re going to get more summary and less commentary than you otherwise might. That being said, here goes.

The NAIOP letter was much more detailed. I think that the regulated community sees this as an opportunity to push for regulatory reform efforts that it truly believes benefit both the regulated community and EEA. The benefits to EEA are precisely those that were the subject of the Governor’s request to his cabinet – by increasing use of general permits, privatizing more audit-type functions, and reducing the number of unnecessary, i.e., not statutorily-mandated regulations and guidance documents, EEA and MassDEP can operate more leanly and conserve precious resources. These types of changes may have a sympathetic audience at EEA, but they are very difficult to implement, because the environmental community is so skeptical of these types of programs. The current budget problems may provide a rare opportunity to advance this part of the regulated community’s agenda.

ELM’s letter was much more limited in its scope. It largely provides the rationale for limiting cuts to EEA departments. I think that this largely reflects a “where you stand depends on where you sit” phenomenon. NAIOP sees the budget problem and the Secretary’s invitation as an opportunity; ELM and other environmental NGOs see it as an exercise in damage control. ELM’s position is understandable and defensible. It is true that DEP, at least, took what many see as disproportionate cuts during the last budget crisis.

If I may mix my metaphors, I’m an optimist, so I sit in the half-full glass, and I thus stand squarely in favor of seizing this opportunity for thoughtful regulatory reform. The budget crisis is obviously a major headache for EEA and its departments. However, many of the suggestions NAIOP has made are good public policy that would maintain – or increase – environmental protection, while allowing the agencies to accomplish this important goal with fewer resources.

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