The Push to Do Away With State Boards

Literally from the first moment I walked into the California Legislature, and, probably, for years before that, my colleagues “across the aisle” (that is, Republican colleagues) have unceasingly advocated for the elimination of any and all state oversight boards. Pressed to articulate their reasons, they cite the usual mantra of “waste”, and insist that it is an integral part of a budget solution, even against all evidence to the contrary.

Eliminating state oversight boards won’t help the budget mess because most state boards aren’t funded with tax money. They’re funded with “special” funds, set up for the very purpose of guaranteeing enforcement of the laws and drawn as fees on particular, related enterprises. So why do we continue to hear this refrain?

It’s always been my theory that the reason had far less to do with “waste” (generally unfound) than with a deep antipathy to oversight and regulation. Apparently learning nothing from the banking fiascos, they continue to advocate for an unfettered market, freed from the bodies that oversee and regulate. In this they are aided and abetted by Governor Schwarzenegger, who is not only holding up California’s budget in order to gain a rollback of environmental protections involved in the construction of new roads and bridges, but, in order to further an anti-regulatory agenda, is also advocating for the elimination of state boards.

This essay presents information about the duties of a few of these state boards, and concludes with an analysis of what might be gained and lost by eliminating them.

What is the Purpose of State Boards?
There are a number of state boards, some of them full-time, some part-time, some appointed by the Governor in their entirety, some with legislative appointments, some with designated slots for various industries or advocacy types, some with public members. Generally, given the separation of powers among the three branches of government, state boards are created by the legislature to oversee and push for the timely and effective enforcement of state legislation by agencies of the executive branch.

For Example?
Well, of course the one that comes first to mind for me is the California Integrated Waste Management Board (mostly because I was just appointed to the Senate seat on that Board by the Senate President pro temps). More about that a little further down.

Other examples:
The State Water Board was established over forty years ago to protect water quality, balance competing demands on water resources and attempt to resolve eon-long water disputes in California. Early in the 20th Century, California voters passed a ballot initiative requiring the state to “…put water to the highest beneficial use possible and not waste water or use it unreasonably”. The Water Board was established to interpret and enforce that mandate. The Board consists of five full-time salaried members, each filling a different specialty position.

Today the State Water Board allocates water rights, adjudicates water right disputes, develops statewide water protection plans, establishes water quality standards, and guides the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards located in the major watersheds of the state. These regional boards develop and enforce water quality objectives and implementation plans, recognizing local differences in climate, topography, geology and hydrology.

The State Air Resources Board was established to protect the public against exposure to toxic contaminants, make sure the air is clean, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and oversee the implementation of air pollution control laws through rules and regulations.

To carry out this mandate, the board oversee rulemaking and enforcement across a broad range of interests: agriculture, climate change, coatings, consumer products, diesel, energy, fuels, goods movement, particulate matter, portable equipment, smoke management and toxics, among others.

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The California Integrated Waste Management Board oversees the disposal and recycling of the more than 93 million tons of waste generated in California each year. 93 million tons is 186 billion pounds of waste, more than 5,000 pounds of waste for each Californian, each year.

The Board formulates and enforces a plethora of policies through rulemaking and regulation in order to reduce waste, manage every type of waste material so as to achieve each material’s best re-use, regulate the handling, processing and disposal of all solid waste, apply policies that protect public health and safety as well as the environment, invest considerable resources in California to create and fund, through loans and grants, new manufacturing, new green jobs and to develop new markets, oversee closed landfills and make certain that operators continue to monitor and appropriately deal with gasses, water pollution and other problems emanating from closed dumps, and to make certain that all waste materials from disasters, illegal dumping, construction and demolition, used tires, used oil, pharmaceuticals, organics and other waste for which no one is responsible, is removed and recycled.

All funds received and expended by the Board are fees, not taxpayer monies: “tipping fees” paid by trash haulers who truck our waste and deposit it into landfills, monies deposited by manufacturers who produce certain kinds of products, such as electronics, which we have to figure out how to keep out of landfills and recycle, fees on new tires to fund the collection and recycling of used tires in the state (several millions each year), and an oil collection fee expended to recycle used oil.

California passed its landmark solid waste management law, the Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 (AB 939), at a time when California was throwing away 90 percent of its waste and recycling only 10 percent. The Act required California’s 450 jurisdictions–cities, counties and regional waste management compacts-to implement waste management programs that would meet ambitious mandatory goals: a 25 percent diversion rate by 1995 and a 50 percent diversion rate by 2000.  But we did it.  Last year, California diverted a full 58% of all waste away from its landfills, a higher percentage than any other state.

The Integrated Waste Management Board has six full-time, salaried, members.  The Governor appoints four of them, two to represent the public, one member with industry expertise, and one with expertise in the environmental field.  The fifth member is appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules (that would be me) and the sixth is appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly.

Q: Why do we need these boards?
A: Agency enforcement is not enough without oversight

Although thousands of hard-working state employees investigate, recommend, meet with local agencies, and measure everything from toxicity to fire and environmental dangers, decisions on whether to vigorously enforce the many laws in these areas are made at the highest levels of the Executive Branch.  Where the President or the Governor do not favor regulation, and where there is no independent oversight, enforcement of these many laws can fall by the wayside.

Experience has shown that we can’t really depend on the good will of any Governor or any legislature.  Throughout the budget discussions that have gone on interminably from last year to this, for instance, the Governor has continued to insist on seriously weakening environmental protections (the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA) which mandates the identification of environmental impacts stemming from, among other projects, the building of highways and bridges.  The Governor has made diminution of environmental protection in these areas one of his lines in the sand.

Naturally, a President or a Governor can also attempt to weaken enforcement through weak appointments to these Boards, or by leaving some seats unfilled.  That is not the current case with any of the Boards listed above, but that possibility is also the reason that most statutes include appointments from the Legislature, as well, in an attempt to make sure at least one or two members will continue to stress enforcement.

As we have seen in the federal system, enforcement of statutes related to the environment or financial markets can suffer from political interference and become criminally lax without an independent body asking the right questions, formulating the policies and making certain that regulations, permits, licenses, and solutions to problems that arise in enforcement are dealt with in a transparent and timely manner.  State Boards in California were established to provide this oversight.

Sheila Kuehl

Sheila Kuehl

Sheila James Kuehl was appointed to the California Integrated Waste Management Board on December 1, 2008, after having served eight years in the State Sena te and six years in the State Assembly. During the 1997-98 legislative session, she was the first woman in California history to be named Speaker pro Te mpore of the Assembly. She is also the first openly gay or lesbian person to be elected to the California Legislature. A former pioneering civil rights attorney and law professor, Sen. Kuehl represented the 23rd Senate District in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. She was the chair of the Senate Health Committee and sat on the Agriculture, Appropriations, Environmental Quality, Joint Rules, Judiciary, Labor and Employment, and Natural Resources and Water Committees. Sen. Kuehl was also chair of the Select Committee on School Safety and Chair of the Select Committee on the Health Effects of Radioactive and Chemical Contamination. Senator Kuehl served as chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee from 2000-2006.

Published by the LA Progressive on February 12, 2009
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