Arizona’s One-On-One with Two U.S. EPA Administrators

by Amanda A. Reeve

The Arizona Manufacturers Council (“AMC”) held its annual Environmental and Sustainability Summit (“ESS”) last month in Prescott with the best agenda, speakers, and attendance this event has had in recent years. Not that the AMC ESS and been lackluster in previous years; but this year’s event benefited from a specially-developed program as a result of an unencumbered reemergence of cooperative federalism. After all, it is a rare occasion, and an unprecedented one for ESS, to be able to attend a local event and have the opportunity to meet and discuss issues directly and in person with U.S. EPA Region IX Administrator Mike Stoker and Senior Policy Advisor (former Acting Regional Administrator) Alexis Strauss one day and with U.S. EPA’s Acting Deputy Administrator Henry Darwin the next.

For nearly 30 years, this annual environmental summit has consistently brought together a diverse crowd that includes the regulated community, regulators, environmental experts, policy makers, elected officials, and other various types of professionals and specialists. Several of this year’s presenters even spoke to the importance of this annual ESS because it brings an eclectic population together in a setting which promotes opportunities for simultaneously discussing, understanding, and working the environmental, energy, and natural resources issues and concerns impacting Arizona. Joining in on these critical discussions this year, for the first time ever, were three high-ranking officials with the U.S. EPA, two of whom are in positions to really affect change.

Even more remarkable than agreeing to attend the ESS as Keynote presenters is the fact that a mere five months earlier, Mike Stoker was appointed to serve as the Region IX Administrator on May 18, 2018 and Henry Darwin had been promoted to serve as Acting Deputy Administrator on July 11, 2018, just five weeks prior to the ESS. To be fair, Arizona is Darwin’s home state, but that doesn’t change the fact that he had just taken on the responsibilities and time-consuming workload accompanying the second highest position within in a federal agency.  With both gentlemen being so new to their respective roles, it was unexpected that either would accept a speaking request, let alone one that would require out-of-state travel.

Further surprising was that neither Stoker nor Darwin had a prepared presentation.  No PowerPoint slides. No note cards. They just stood up on the stage, gave a little background on themselves and a little insight as to what they have noticed/learned/come to understand thus far in their respective roles; and then they asked to hear from the audience. What questions or concerns do you have? How can we do better? What do you need and want from us? Absolutely Astounding! Even though Darwin was not present to hear Stoker speak and vice-versa; both used the same template. Quick intro, a little background and insight into the agency and its operations, then spend the majority of the time listening to the customers, taking notes and answering questions; but mostly just listening to understand and learn.

Both Stoker and Darwin raved about EPA personnel being exceptionally intelligent, talented, dedicated, and caring; but Darwin also expressed a concern over the lack of young professionals seeking employment with the agency. Both admitted that the agency desperately needs to operate more efficiently and effectively in order to fully comply with its intended mission of protecting the environment. To absolutely no one’s shock, Darwin admitted that they have found a backlog in just about every major program under the EPA’s purview; but noted those backlogs are a reflection of the unnecessarily copious self-imposed protective measures that have been implemented over the years.

Darwin also discussed the status of the agency’s response to President Trump’s February 24, 2017 Executive Order “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda.” Again, it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone in attendance when Darwin shared that absolutely nothing had been done with the 460,000 plus comments received by EPA in response to its April 13, 2017 request for public comments providing an evaluation of the existing regulations. However, Darwin announced that four days prior, on August 17, 2018, Administrator Wheeler had restructured the Regulatory Reform Task Force initially established to review and act on those submitted comments and appointed Darwin to serve as Chairman and provided him the resources required to begin fulfilling the task force’s duties.

In addition to meeting with EPA, this year’s ESS program also included a fascinating elections preview; intriguing true cautionary tales from environmental agencies; the latest regulatory, legislative, and policy updates from federal, regional, and state agencies; frank discussions regarding the current and future state of Arizona’s water and energy resources; and learning how to enhance environmental conservation efforts and sustainable initiatives through the implementation of commonsense measures and collaborative projects.

The open dialogue, one-on-one conversations, and discussions regarding Arizona’s environmental, energy, and natural resources issues are an essential component to working collaboratively towards practicable solutions. As the Presenting Sponsor, Snell & Wilmer L.L.P. is proud to be an integral partner in the coordinating and developing of this annual program and facilitating these important discussions.

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