e-Texas e-Texassmaller smarter faster governmentDecember, 2000
Carole Keeton Rylander
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Recommendations of the Texas Comptroller

Chapter 10: Environment and Natural Resources

Increase Coordination with the US Environmental Protection Agency and Related National Associations


To protect its natural resources and environment as effectively as possible, Texas needs greater flexibility in implementating federal regulations. Most environmental directives are handed down from the federal government to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission with little room for interpretation. Congress has requested a two-year assessment of federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations, with particular emphasis on its core programs and its relationship with state agencies. Texas should take immediate steps to make its position known to federal authorities and to become a national leader in the battle for greater regulatory flexibility.


In the 1960s, leaders of the environmental movement lobbied for vigorous federal action because they were frustrated with the lax responses by state and local governments to industrial pollution. The initial wave of federal environmental legislation was based on the “command-and-control” approach, which relies on permits and regulations not only to set limits on pollution, but to tell business and industry precisely how to go about limiting it. While this approach achieved some undeniable successes at the time, in the long run it also led to numerous, costly regulations that proved to be a poor solution for the many different environmental problems faced by state and local governments, industry, agriculture, and private citizens.[1]http://www.rppi.org/ps253.html

A more flexible, goal-based approach to pollution control would allow states like Texas to redirect their attention from permitting, which tells a company how to eliminate pollution, to results—whether or not the company actually reduces or eliminates pollution. This change would allow states, for instance, to focus inspection efforts on companies believed to be breaking pollution laws, rather than conducting regular inspections of large numbers of companies, regardless of whether they have shown any signs of trouble.

In Texas, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) enforces most environmental regulations. (The federal government can delegate most environmental authority to a state if it establishes environmental laws and regulations at least as strict as the federal rules.) These regulations have almost all been handed down from the federal level, and thus TNRCC has little flexibility in the way it must monitor and enforce them.

Recognizing the need for change, Congress has funded a two-year, $2 million study to assess the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations and potential changes in its core programs and its relationship with state agencies. The Center for the Economy and the Environment at the National Academy of Public Administration began this study in 1998 and completed the effort in Summer 2000.

The Academy had written two previous reports on the EPA. Setting Priorities, Getting Results, published in 1995, reviewed EPA’s mission, structure, and internal management systems; its relationships with states and local governments; its use of risk analysis; and its regulatory activities. The report’s major recommendation was that Congress, EPA, and the states should focus on environmental results rather than procedural details. A 1997 report, Resolving the Paradox of Environmental Protection, evaluated EPA’s implementation of the Academy’s 1995 recommendations. It found that EPA’s efforts to change its regulatory approach had been marginal at best and were unlikely to improve unless the agency and Congress changed some core practices and policies.[2]

As part of its most recent study, the Academy has found that one of the key issues in the federal-state relationship relates to states’ limited ability to modify the permitting processes outlined in federal guidelines. State regulators told the Academy that they feel they must run every proposed change by the EPA to ensure its compliance with federal requirements. Their biggest concern is that innovative state programs will fail without clear, consistent direction and leadership from top administrators at EPA to their agents in program and regional offices.[3]

Texas could become nationally known in the field of environmental protection by increasing its ability to affect federal decision-making. The Texas Legislature could play a leadership role in this issue by asking the EPA to give states greater flexibility in environmental regulation enforcement. Texas also can seek more flexibility through involvement in national associations such as the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), a national nonprofit, nonpartisan association of state and territorial environmental commissioners. ECOS’ mission is to improve the United States’ environment by championing the role of states in environmental management; providing for the exchange of ideas, views and experiences among states; fostering cooperation and coordination in environmental management; and articulating state positions on environmental issues to Congress, federal agencies, and the public. While TNRCC is already a member of ECOS, it should become more involved with the organization’s leadership and committees.

Other national associations include the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators, Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators, Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials, and State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators.


A. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should be requested, by a resolution from the Texas Legislature, to provide maximum flexibility to the states in dealing with federal environmental programs and testing regulatory innovations.

Such a resolution would emphasize to Congress and the EPA that Texas is in a better position to determine how to protect its environment than the federal government, and that the state wishes to become a leader in environmental protection and innovation.

B. The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission should expand its coordination efforts with the Environmental Council of the States and other national associations to increase the flexibility of federal regulation delegated to the states by the EPA.

Texas should take a leadership role in these organizations to monitor events and legislation that could affect Texas’ environmental protection programs, so that it can be prepared to participate in any future discussions.

Fiscal Impact

A resolution asking the EPA to provide greater flexibility to states in dealing with federal regulations and testing environmental regulatory innovations would have no fiscal impact. If the EPA provides such flexibility to the states, Texas may be able to reallocate resources to higher-priority areas.

TNRCC’s coordination efforts with national associations could be expanded with existing resources.

[1] Reason Public Policy Institute, Simplify, Simplify: Alternate Permitting at the State Level, by Christopher A. Hurtle (Los Angeles, California, January 1999), p. 1. (). (Internet document.)

[2 ] National Academy of Public Administration, Learning from Innovations in Environmental Protection—Project Update: June 2000, Washington. DC, June 2000 (http://www.napawash.org/NAPA/). (Internet document.)

[3 ] National Academy of Public Administration, Green Permits and Cooperative Environmental Agreements: A Report on Regulatory Innovation Programs in Oregon and Washington, by the Tulane Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (Washington, DC, June 2000), pp. 42–45.

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