Local Commentary

Senator Whipple’s Richmond Report

mmwhipplemugAt the National Conference of State Legislators annual meeting recently, I chaired the Environment Committee as it adopted policies designed to guide NCSL’s lobbyists as they work to influence federal legislation.

For example, one of the guiding principles the states try to emphasize to our federal representatives is that they should not pre-empt states’ rights to adopt legislation that exceeds federal minimums.

The standards for adopting a policy are quite high.  Any policy must receive the votes of three-quarters of the states present and voting both in the committee and at the annual business meeting itself. As you can imagine, that means working hard to achieve consensus on some fairly divisive policies.

The climate change policy, for example, was carefully couched to say IF Congress adopted a cap and trade approach, then the states believe that certain principles should be observed. That way the states achieved substantial agreement.

The environmentalists on the committee had a good year as many policies were adopted that give environmental issues high priority.

The National Caucus of Environmental Legislators met in advance of the NCSL meeting to study issues and propose policies for consideration by NCSL. At the pre-conference meeting, legislators discussed state and federal chemical policy reform, including strategies to enact bans on toxic chemicals, learned about state comprehensive chemical regulations and became more aware of federal chemical policy reform efforts.

After reviewing the topic of toxic chemicals, NCEL participants sponsored, advocated for and won unanimous passage of a progressive policy supporting comprehensive chemical policy reform.  The federal law has not been updated for decades and revisions should be considered by Congress.

NCEL also advocated and helped enact policies supporting improved automobile greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards.

In addition to adopting policies, the Environment Committee sponsored a number of informative panels on a variety of issues.

One interesting session was on preserving wildlife. While in the past, there was a lot of focus on endangered species, there is now more focus on maintaining habitat.  There is significant public support for purchasing land or acquiring conservation easements to preserve natural areas. Across the United States, bond issues have been passed with good majorities to fund such acquisitions.

Water infrastructure issues are of importance in most regions and were the topic of another session. The EPA reports that most of the drinking water and wastewater plants, distribution lines and storage facilities were built in the 30 years following WW II and now need rehabilitation and replacement. States and local governments need to plan now for financing this work.

Environmentally Preferred Procurement in being considered in a number of states.  Laws would require state agencies and school districts to buy “green” cleaning supplies.  Those who have implemented such policies say it really benefits maintenance staff who remain healthier when they aren’t using toxic materials.

Naturally there was a major session on the comprehensive energy legislation being considered by the Congress. Both Democratic and Republican staffers from the House Energy and Commerce committee were there to brief the NCSL Environment and Ag/Energy Committees on this work in progress.