Utah economy

Region 8 EPA Appointed KC Becker aims to restore protections abandoned under Trump

Stricter regulations for the oil and gas industry, clean air and water, and funding shortages are expected to be top priorities for KC Becker as she takes over as administrator for Region 8 of Environmental Protection Agency, conservationists and tribal officials said.

Not only should Becker, who is the former Colorado House chairman, help the federal agency rebuild the reduced protections under former President Donald Trump, advocates say, but she should also lobby to expand them further.

In her new role, Becker said she would oversee around 500 employees, help develop and enforce national policies to protect the environment and public health. It will also distribute millions of dollars in federal funding to help clean up contaminated areas, improve infrastructure and monitor polluting industries.

Becker’s Region 8 covers Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. Three of those states – Colorado, North Dakota and Utah – have some of the fastest growing populations in the country, according to census data. And the region covers some of the country’s most valuable lands like Arches, Badlands, Glacier, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, and Yellowstone National Parks.

“Yes, there are these amazingly beautiful places,” said Stephanie Kodish, senior director and board of the National Parks Conservation Association.

But there are also some very significant challenges, Kodish added.

Becker said she was ready to meet these challenges, adding that climate change, environmental justice and degraded infrastructure were also high on her priority list. Federal officials do not want to provoke a “boost”, but will take stronger action than the last administration.

“No progress had been made in the past four years,” Becker told The Denver Post. “Really, I’m focused, and Administrator (EPA) (Michael) Regan is focused on making real changes on the ground that improve air quality, water quality, and the quality of life of the community. all.”

Dan Grossman, of the Environmental Defense Fund, said Becker is well suited for the role, especially as President Joe Biden’s administration moves away from the lax rules and regulations set by Trump’s EPA.

“I am very grateful that we are under new leadership,” said Grossman, who heads the national office of the environmental nonprofit Rocky Mountain. “We are already seeing a lot of progress.

Biden appointed Becker, a Democrat, to the post last month. For a limited term, she stepped down from the legislature last year, and her time at State House was marked by the promotion of aggressive climate action policies and a 2019 law revising industry regulations. state oil and gas. Democrats and environmentalists hailed the move, though industry leaders accused lawmakers behind the legislation of operating “in the middle of the night” and warned it could cripple the economy. the state.

Regulation of the oil and gas industry

Colorado, North Dakota and Wyoming are still home to “booming” oil and gas developments polluting the air, Kodish said. Industry, along with gasoline-powered vehicles, is one of the main sources of ozone pollution.

These pollution levels have peaked so high along the Front Range this year that the EPA is likely to downgrade Colorado’s air quality violator status from “severe” to “severe.”

Becker must not only work to tighten regulations on the industry, but she must also strengthen enforcement to force violators to reduce their emissions, Kodish said.

Colorado Oil & Gas President and CEO Dan Haley has repeatedly urged regulators to curb certain regulations – like continuous emissions monitoring requirements – and warned of rising fuel costs and the damage to an industry that produces millions of dollars for Colorado’s economy.

“Conversations about complicated technologies and emission reductions need to be rooted in facts, not scare tactics or guesses,” Haley said in a 2019 press release responding to new Oversight Commission regulations. air quality in the state.

Haley and other industry officials did not respond to messages seeking comment for this article.

Under the Biden administration, stricter industry regulations are already underway.

A plan released last month by the EPA would force oil and gas companies to detect and reduce methane emissions more aggressively. The goal is to reduce these emissions by 74% from 2005 levels by 2035.

Once the plan is finalized, individual states will likely have to draft plans to apply the new rules to businesses, Grossman said. And Becker will be able to act as a “validator” to ensure that the plans for the Region 8 states meet federal requirements.

New regulations must also take into account that communities of color and those whose low-income residents most often bear “disproportionately bear the burden of pollution,” Becker said.

“There’s a lot going on in the clean air space,” she added.

Protect waterways from pollution

Likewise, there’s a lot going on in the area of ​​clean water, said Jen Pelz, wild rivers program director at the environmental nonprofit WildEarth Guardians. And the priority for many environmentalists is knowing which waterways need to be protected.

Trump’s EPA has removed protections against “fleeting” and intermittent flows, which only flow during storms or at certain times of the year, Pelz said. About 68% of Colorado’s waterways fall into this category.

“If all of this Colorado water isn’t protected and clean, then these pollutants or developments are causing problems further downstream as well,” Pelz said.

Colorado Farm Bureau officials welcomed the move in late 2019. Old regulations, enacted under President Barack Obama, masked land use rights for farmers in the state, the then President of Colorado said at the time. Farm Bureau, Don Shawcroft.

Becker, however, said the Trump administration had gone “far too far” and that the Biden administration is now working to restore many of those lost protections.

But Pelz said it was not enough.

“Don’t just restore the protections that were there before,” Pelz said. “Think about the challenges we face in the future and offer the broadest protections possible. “

As populations continue to grow and climate change dries up many of the country’s rivers and streams, clean water will be all the more important in the years to come, Pelz said.

Looking to the future, Colorado Farm Bureau executive vice president Chad Vorthmann said in a statement he hopes Becker and the rest of the EPA will protect the agriculture industry from “unnecessary regulations” and ensure that farmers have a say in new policies.

“KC Becker is a tough negotiator but knows how to bring stakeholders together to discuss concerns,” Vorthmann said. “She knows important issues like natural resources and water and we look forward to working with her in her new role.”

Native American tribes and funding

As water supplies dwindle in the West, so does the money allocated to the 28 Native American tribes in Region 8, said Rich Janssen Jr., chief of the natural resources department for the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes in northwestern Montana.

“It becomes frustrating to see that, year after year, tribal funding continues to be cut,” Janssen said.

Each tribe sets its own standards for water and air quality, among other protections, and uses EPA money to pay inspectors and enforce those regulations, Janssen said. And during the Trump administration, funding for the Confederate Salish and Kottenai tribes declined by as much as 25%, he said.

Becker said she would push for more money for the tribes and that some of them should already be on track from the bipartisan $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the tribes. Congress in November.

Millions more of the bill will be set aside for the six states in the Becker region, she said. And its responsibility will be to allocate money to local governments looking to replace lead service lines, replace diesel school buses with electric buses, soil remediation programs and more.

All in all, Becker said her appointment represents a “huge opportunity” for her to use her past experience to protect not only the environment but also public health. And the historic spending program, coupled with the Biden administration’s environmental goals “is going to have a truly measurable impact on people’s daily lives.”

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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion