Anne Idsal has spent her career shaping environmental and land policy in Texas—first as general counsel to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, then as chief clerk and deputy land commissioner at the Texas General Land Office. She now leads EPA’s five-state Region 6 as regional administrator and to oversee the agency’s agenda of “cooperative federalism”—one where EPA takes a more collaborative, rather than dictatorial, stance with state environmental agencies.

Anne Idsal

Since taking the post in December, Idsal has been on a speaking tour of sorts, introducing this new brand of federal management that preaches cooperation and a regionalized, state-by-state approach. 10/12 Industry Report sat down with her to discuss her goals and their potential impacts to Louisiana industry. She says the agency is in the process of being streamlined and reformulated to eliminate what it feels are unnecessary obstacles to executing environmental policy.

How might you best sum up the “new” EPA?

The unique environmental challenges and the issues you face are different in Louisiana than they are in Texas, New Mexico, Massachusetts or California. We want to make sure that we don’t try to propose a “one size fits all” solution. Administrator [Scott] Pruitt would not presume that Washington, D.C., would tell Region 6, “We need you to do these things exactly the same way that Region 3 or 1 does them, or Regions 9 and 10.” While there needs to be a level of consistency and clear expectations, we are actively seeking opportunities to work with the states on an individual basis. We want to work with you to understand what the issues and concerns are and find the best possible fit in terms of what we’re legally obligated to do.

How does cooperative federalism factor into this approach?

Cooperative federalism does not mean that EPA will say, “Alright states, it’s all on you. We’ll check in on you from time to time.” One thing that you will see from me is an active, collaborative and engaged partner. We want to understand your individual needs and concerns. We want to know where there are opportunities and say, “Alright, Louisiana, you take the lead on this. You’ve got a proven track record and we will check on you from time to time to make sure that things are going as they should and as promised.” There will be other times when we’ll partner by sharing expertise and information. Then, at some point down the road LDEQ can take the lead. There will be other times when LDEQ might ask us to take the lead. In cooperative federalism, there is shared accountability and shared responsibility.

How is the process going with LDEQ?

Dr. [Chuck] Brown [LDEQ secretary] is already a wonderful partner. We’ve talked to one another about getting ahead of challenges, getting ahead of issues and staying ahead of them so that we don’t wind up with a surprise on either side of the table. For LDEQ to be able to do its job effectively we need to be a collaborative partner. We might help them work through a permit application, for example, or deal with an enforcement issue, as opposed to knocking on the door late in the game and saying, “Hey, you didn’t do X, Y and Z, so we’re going to take over from here.” We don’t want that to be the model.

Do you feel the funding structure is where it needs to be for the local DEQs to take on more responsibility?

If resources are an issue, we need to plan for that and know about it, and then we’ll take the lead on those, but we want to come to the table not just assuming that EPA’s going to take the lead on everything. We want to start under the opposite kind of paradigm, one where the states tell us what they want to do, what they want to partner with us on, and what they need us to do.

You talk about the implementation of “lean management” processes at the Region 6 office. What are the implications of this for LDEQ and Louisiana industry?

We’re getting ready to push lean management through our entire business processes. We are bringing the EPA into the 21st century in terms of how we do business, with the goal of turning information around in six months or less, not years. We’re not going to kick the can down the road. We’re going to be proactive in making decisions and we’re going to communicate those clearly. You are going to know where things stand and you will know what the status is. A big part of that is having you all come to the table and help us understand what you need, what’s clear, what’s not clear, etc.

You’re also promoting the increased use of public-private partnerships. What might that look like to the petrochemical or oil and gas company? 

Our brownfields program is a prime example. We’ll go into a moderately contaminated site and work with a developer that’s interested in the property. We get it to a point where it’s cleaned up to a commercial or residential standard, depending upon the type of property or development interest. In that case, we’re working actively with a developer. I would be surprised if there aren’t similar opportunities within the oil and gas context.

Interview has been condensed and edited for space and clarity.