In the first year of the Bush Administration our President has forwarded legislation on Brownfield reclamation and has had his EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman speak out about the necessity of a smarter growth paradigm (see MIR Feb. 02). But how does all of this work at a more local level? And what should we be looking to as benchmarks for how the Administration is doing re: the environment? To give us a sense of how this trickles down to the local level, MIR was pleased to recently interview Wayne Nastri, new Administrator of EPA's Region 9.
Mr. Nastri, you've been at the helm of Region 9 for almost six months now. Why don't we start the interview by having you give us as a sense of what EPA's regional priorities are, especially as they affect Southern California?
My priorities are based on those of my Administrator, Christine Todd Whitman, who wants to be able to state that this administration has been able to make the air cleaner, the water purer and better protect the land.
To achieve that mandate we will need to utilize three specific strategies: 1) Partnerships-partnerships at the state and local levels as well as with our various stakeholders; 2) Communication-we must craft a message that resonates at all of those levels so that all involved understand what we are trying to accomplish; and 3) Innovation-we must find ways of introducing new techniques and processes into our programs that help us meet the aforementioned goals.
Those are the things that will guide us as we attempt to achieve our vision of a more livable and environmentally sound region.
Let's delve into some of the specific issues that further your mission. In a Metro Investment Report interview last month with California Secretary of Resources Mary Nichols she spoke of the importance of the CalFed program. Yet she noted that, "As of yet, we have not seen EPA play an active role in the CalFed program." She went on to say that EPA Administrator Whitman had played a very active role in other areas re: environmental quality and she hopes that the EPA would speak out on the CalFed process soon. Can you elaborate on her comment, be responsive to her concerns?
If it weren't for EPA, CalFed probably wouldn't be here. Former Region 9 Administrator Felicia Marcus did an excellent job in bringing that whole entity together. So to say that EPA is not at the table or hasn't been at the table is an unfair characterization.
What I believe Secretary Mary Nichols was really alluding to was resource allocation. And frankly when you look at the United States today and how priorities have changed over the last 6 months, our real focus must be on national defense and security.
The EPA will play a role in the CalFed process. We will contribute. And we will certainly continue to provide technical resources to the CalFed process as long as they mesh with our regular jurisdictional authorities. But the current fiscal climate and constraints bind us as to how large that role can be. Would we like to bring more money to the table? Sure. But the reality is, we have to deal with the pot we're given.
Let me cite a companion article in this month's MIR. In that article, California State Senator Jim Costa stipulates that while CalFed and the Colorado 4.4 Plan are great individually, they do not do enough to integrate specific plans into a holistic framework for water and land use within the state. Does EPA have a position on that? Are the interests of comprehensive environmental planning and land use under your purview?
From my perspective, planning is really a local issue. To the extent that we can provide assistance to the local entities on how they may want to look at some factors within that framework, I'm willing to do that. But as far as the local land use planning, that's an area that I don't intend to get involved with.
Another aspect of EPA's mandate is that of air quality. The EPA has had some recent wins in Northern California re: smog and air pollution. Can you elaborate on those successes and the impact they might have for Southern California's efforts on air quality?
Air quality will be the driving force behind environmental issues in California over the next decade. And because I was born and raised in the South Coast, I have a pretty extensive background on that issue. The changes that I have been able to witness firsthand in that area alone over the last 30-40 years have really been like night and day. The South Coast has really become a leader and innovator on techniques and approaches to improving air quality.
That being said, I believe that that knowledge has radiated throughout Southern California and has led that entire region to have really grounded approaches with regard to air quality. They've moved beyond stationary source pollution and are beginning to focus on mobile source issues. And that has caused Southern California to really push the envelope when it comes to air quality.
The progress that Southern California has made with those issues will really set the stage throughout California and help places like the Central Valley deal with their particular problems.
Let's explore further matters relevant to the L.A. region. You recently met with L.A. Mayor James Hahn. Did any policy initiatives or programmatic alliances result from that meeting?
That meeting was very productive and a number of things were discussed. Mayor Hahn is placing a great deal of importance on the indoor air quality of schools. And we've developed a lot of programs here at EPA to allow schools to promote that concept and really start a dialogue about what that means for schools and students. I was very excited to hear that it was such a priority to him and I am thrilled that we are on the same page.
We also talked about the need for both the City of Los Angeles and the EPA to resolve our outstanding issues regarding sewage spills and discharge. The Mayor certainly agrees that it's a very important issue and has promised that he will direct the Department of Public Works to redouble their efforts to move forward with us in some type of settlement.
The last issue that we talked about was the feasibility of private programs to minimize the ground heat effect within large urban cities. I believe he's looking at a pilot project located near the city zoo to begin doing some innovative things and begin to minimize that heat discharge.
Those were probably the three primary areas that we talked about. But we also talked a little about the issue of brownfields. Hopefully we will be able to do some more work in that regard within the City of LA.
Can you elaborate on the latter? The President has been very articulate on his brownfield strategy. How might it play itself out here in Southern California?
The President's action of nearly doubling the available brownfield mitigation funds will give us a much greater opportunity to become engaged. Whether it's Southern California, Northern California or even Central California, there are a number of sites that we will now have the ability to be directly involved with both in the assessment phase-where we can help address some of the uncertainty associated with brownfield sites-as well as during the cleanup phase. We're excited about having greater funds to address more sites. And we think that increased allocation will help provide more jobs and improve the economy in the areas we are able to lend aid.
Mr. Nastri, we recently carried an excerpt from Administrator Whitman's remarks to the Smart Growth conference in San Diego last month. I wonder if you could translate those remarks to real world consequences. How does Smart Growth roll itself out as a programmatic effort in a region like Southern California?
In a region like Southern California, Smart Growth really plays itself out in the air quality issues associated with transportation. Smart Growth, at its core, really deals with minimizing vehicle miles traveled, emissions and commute times.
So if you look at it from EPA's role, what we need to do is certainly begin to look at how cities and counties are conforming to transportation plans. We need to find out how strict a level of conformity is reasonable and how we can prioritize smarter growth.
We must begin to work with the local districts and municipalities to help them understand that planning requires an understanding of a wide range of issues including land use, transportation, infrastructure, air quality and quality of life. Ultimately, like I said earlier, land use is controlled at the local level, but it's our responsibility to provide cities and counties with the regional information so that they can plan more efficiently and effectively.
This interview has focused on Smart Growth, but another issue Metro Investment Report has persistently addressed is the benefits of high performing "Smart Schools." The Environmental Protection Agency has begun to get involved nationally and in California re: what can be done to make our public school buildings more energy efficient and usable. Can you elaborate on the efforts of your agency in this arena?
The biggest thing we can contribute to that dialogue would be from the Energy Star aspect. If you look at the energy efficiency of appliances, devices, equipment and computers we must begin to use those that have reduced energy output requirements. Using those lead to substantial utility savings as well as enormous environmental savings.
Additionally, we must begin to look more at green buildings and environmentally friendly construction paradigms. The EPA has begun to provide guidance and resources to various organizations regarding how they can be more efficient in terms of their construction, design, etc. And we will be doing more of that as we have the funds and the resources available.
Let's close with a provocative question, in the sense that this is an awfully big country and our regions each have different priorities and needs. The ethanol issue has been playing itself out in Congress this month. And obviously California has set very high air quality standards for mobile sources of pollution and presently frowns on MTBE. Does that put Region 9 at odds with the rest of the country on what's needed here in terms of an energy fuel policy?
I don't think that the Senate or anyone has said that ethanol is absolutely required. In fact, I think the Clean Air Act just said you need an oxygenate. So it's really up to the state to determine what oxygenate that is.
Obviously Gov. Davis banned MTBE and there are lingering questions as to whether he will want another waiver for the MTBE or whether he's going to rescind the ban. That's certainly the state's call.
With respect to the EPA, I think Gov. Davis made the right call when you look at the request for the waiver. And I don't think the fact that California began down that path puts us in disagreement with other regions or the national policy. California has always been recognized as a vanguard when it comes to certain environmental policies. And I'm sure it will continue to be so regardless.