Regional EPA chief discusses top issues

Dennis McLerran, the new regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, held his first news conference today, saying he wanted to touch base with reporters during Earth Week.

Dennis McLerran, EPA regional administrator
EPA photo

This year is not only the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, he noted, but also the 40th anniversary of the EPA. McLerran said he was a freshman at the University of Washington in 1970, the year of the first Earth Day. (That’s the year that I graduated from Mercer Island High School. Like McLerran, I have been involved in environmental issues for much of the last 40 years.)

Coming to the EPA from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, McLerran said he has had to expand his horizons to take in all environmental issues. “Wall-to-wall briefings” has been “kind of like drinking from a fire hose,” he said today.

The regional administrator said he was taking many clues from his boss, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson — including focusing on her top seven priorities:

  • Taking Action on Climate Change
  • Improving Air Quality
  • Assuring the Safety of Chemicals
  • Cleaning Up Our Communities
  • Protecting America’s Waters
  • Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism and Working for Environmental Justice
  • Building Strong State and Tribal Partnerships

Additional notes from McLerran’s comments and responses to questions:

  • While the Bush administration downplayed climate change, it is one of the top issues for the Obama administration. “We are looking at how to integrate climate change issues into everything we do.”
  • New ambient air standards could put Seattle and a few other areas out of attainment for air-quality standards, requiring an action plan to reduce air pollution.
  • A big priority is to protect water quality in the region’s major river systems. Some communities may need to find ways to reduce their nutrient loadings to meet standards dictated by the federal Clean Water Act. He said there are “tensions across state boundaries” over how the reductions in loading should be allocated between Washington and Idaho when it comes to cleaning up the Spokane River.
  • As a kayaker, McLerran said he has a personal interest in cleaning up Puget Sound. Grants for $20 million coming to the EPA for Puget Sound restoration in the 2009 federal budget should be announced soon. That funding has been increased to $50 million for 2010, and the president’s budget would keep it at $50 million for 2011.
  • In answer to a question from me, McLerran said he has not heard much about ocean acidification being enforced under the Clean Water Act, not at the regional level anyway. I’m not really surprised that this has not filtered down yet, even though the lawsuit that triggered an inquiry from the EPA was started in Washington state by the Center for Biological Diversity. See Water Ways entries for March 18, Jan. 22 and the first description of the lawsuit back on May 15 of last year.
  • McLerran said he is preparing to meet with the stakeholders in the Superfund site in the lower Duwamish River. Likewise with Portland Harbor in Oregon. “My job is to put the pressure on moving forward and getting it done rather than more studies…”
  • McLerran said he does not expect to see the Superfund tax on chemical companies to be reinstated anytime soon, which is why he is working with stakeholders and sometimes using money from programs covered by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
  • You may wish to check out my previous Water Ways entry on McLerran.

8 thoughts on “Regional EPA chief discusses top issues

  1. Half the agenda is a jobs program for union loyalists and payback to political contributors. Mr. McLerran, as a good party member, ignores the elephant in the room: immigration. Researchers at Oregon State University have concluded that the number one threat to PNW salmon and their ecosystems is immigration into the area (the vast majority o0f which comes from outside the U.S. and Canada). But because the “environmentalists” and the “immigrants” are both prized Democrat voting blocs; one shall not speak ill of the other for fear of upsetting the caucus.

  2. It seem simlistic linkage to say \environmentalists and immigrants are democrat voters\ so anyone in those groups will never oppose the other for \fear of upsetting the caucus\. For clarity and fairness, could you provide a citation for the research you referenced for all to review?

    While I would agree that immigration is a national and state issue, my review of the central environmental concerns facing the the state does not conclude that immigration drives them all as the \800 lb gorilla\. Let me cite some examples: the federal Clean-up of Hanford Reach, water quantity and water quality issues in the Yakima Valley, Columbia Basin, Okanogan County, and Walla Walla. And by the way, decades of immigrant labor into these fruit and vegetable growing communities fueled the state’s agricultural industry, which has now surpassed Boeing as the state’s number one employer.

    From my perspective, I’ll borrow Administrator McLerran’s metaphor and suggest he get ready for the ‘drinking from a fire hose’ treatment on the water quantity and quality issues facing Eastern Washington. I guess that’s the elephant in my living room.

    was not a top topic for the US EPA’s regional chief?

    I beg to differ, sir, that while immigration is a national issue, and certainly one of the top ten in the minds of some, it is not necessarily a top ten environmental issue

  3. “I beg to differ, sir, that while immigration is a national issue, and certainly one of the top ten in the minds of some, it is not necessarily a top ten environmental issue.”

    These prominent scientists disagree with you. In fact, they say if we do not control immigration into the Puget Sound region NOTHING we do will save PNW salmon and their ecosystems. Here is the link you requested.

    http://oregonstate.edu/dept/fw/lackey/Salmon2100.htm

  4. Yep it’s all of those darn Mexican Salmon that are taking jobs away from our Salmon.

    Maybe we could use some immigrant Salmon from the great white north to supplement our runs and purify the Washington species.

  5. One of the priorities of EPA needs to be protecting health and the environment from toxic chemicals in products. Bisphenol A in baby bottles, lead in toys, and phthalates in cleaners are all symptoms of our broken US chemical laws. The Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 was introduced last week in Congress to overhaul our broken chemical regulatory system. EPA will be a pivotal voice when it comes to negotiating the final version

    The Safe Chemical Act has got some great things in it but it falls short of regulating a critical type of chemicals – persistent bioaccumulative toxins. These are chemicals that build up in the environment and our bodies and are toxic in very small amounts. These chemicals pollute Puget Sound and its wildlife and have been found in homes and the bodies of Washingtonians.

    Region 10 has great examples of government programs to phase out these chemicals right in their backyard. Both Oregon and Washington have had programs in place to phase out the worst chemicals for sometime. Washington was the first state in the nation to have such a program. EPA needs to support a final version of the Safe Chemicals Act so that the law will address these harmful toxins.

    For more on what the Safe Chemicals Act means for consumers, Puget Sound, and states, check out our policy director’s take at http://watoxics.org/blog/the-safe-chemicals-act-states-still-in-the-lead

  6. “Researchers at Oregon State University have concluded that the number one threat to PNW salmon and their ecosystems is immigration into the area”

    Hmmm…not seeing the link. Too many fish tacos, Amigo?

  7. Ah, BlueLight had made a point – in his BlueLight Special way. Here is an excerpt from what Bob Lackey was trying to get across. Population Growth = Resource Depletion, and as the standard of living increases, people place personal priorities ahead of the environment.

    “Current and past attempts to cope with the inexorable increase in human population of the
    region (primarily land use planning and zoning) have met with limited success from an
    ecological perspective (Northcote 1996; Kline and Alig 1999). Even strict land-use laws, such as
    those passed in Oregon, are regularly challenged in the courts and through democratic means. An
    example is a 2004 voter-approved Oregon initiative that potentially overturns some aspects of
    Oregon’s long-established land use planning laws. Even when strict land-use laws or policies
    are in place, they often merely accommodate growth rather than control it. Growth management,
    including the various permutations of “land use zoning,” “balanced growth,” “sustainable
    growth,” “smart growth,” or “environmentally sensitive growth” have merely attempted to adjust
    to human population growth in the least disruptive way. As long as people insist on an ever
    higher “standard of living,” it is a delusion to expect that wild salmon runs can be maintained,
    much less restored, alongside a doubling, tripling, or more of the region’s human population
    (Hartman et al. 2000). Most people would assuredly find the prerequisite changes in policies on
    human population growth rate and associated economic reorientation to be draconian; there is
    little evidence of the willingness of most people even to consider such choices.”

  8. Not getting you, Joker. Are you conceding the fact we can’t have our cake and eat it, too? And why the “Blue Light Special” quip? Does that get you validation amongst your friends?

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