Environmental & Sustainability Summit welcomes new wave of EPA leadership

Last month, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Arizona Manufacturers Council hosted the annual Environmental & Sustainability Summit in Prescott.

Each year, the event convenes leaders in environmental and sustainability practices across business, policy and regulation. The lineup addressed topics at the forefront of the environmental conversation both locally and nationally, with expert panels on local policy and enforcement, water, utilities, corporate sustainability and more.

This year’s program featured not one but two keynote addresses from members of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Region 9 Administrator Mike Stoker and Acting Deputy Administrator/Chief of Operations Henry Darwin joined the summit to discuss the new wave of leadership taking on the EPA both at a regional and national level.

Administrator Stoker has taken an especially hands-on approach to his position, traveling for the majority of his first 90 days in office to demonstrate his commitment to understanding and finding solutions for the environmental policy issues that the unique communities within the region face. Administrator Stoker, who has been on the job for just over three months, laid out his priorities for infrastructure needs in the 148 tribal nations included in the region and doing the same in the U.S. Pacific Islands.

“In all those situations, it’s an issue of if you don’t have the money you don’t have the infrastructure, if you don’t have the infrastructure you’re going to have sewage issues, safe drinking water issues,” Administrator Stoker said. “Those three areas are my top priorities and they’re priorities that are actually solvable.”

At the state level, Administrator Stoker has already entered into collaborations with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to pursue goals surrounding water quality, drinking and waste water treatment, the mining industry and navigating the Waters of the United States rules. He also pledged the support of Region 9 toward realizing the late Senator John McCain’s vision for a restored Rio Salado.

Administrator Stoker finished with the following thoughts: “You don’t have to be for business and be against the environment or be for the environment and be against business. You can be for both. That’s what I stand for.”

The following day, Acting Deputy Administrator and Chief of Operations, and Arizona’s own, Henry Darwin joined to discuss the EPA’s direction on a federal level.

Darwin has taken the same lean management principles, which he also likes to call visual management, that he successfully implemented during his time at ADEQ and as the chief of operations for the state of Arizona, all the way up to the EPA. By heavily emphasizing tracking and workflow, Darwin aims to streamline productivity at an agency that has long been bogged down by inefficient systems.

“To be candid, the systems in place at the EPA have largely become broken. The good news is that people are recognizing that, and it’s on the mend,” Administrator Darwin said. “We’re getting everyone behind the same mission, and getting them to realize that any job they’re doing, it can be done better.”

In addition to revamping day-to-day operations at the agency, Administrator Darwin also chairs the Regulatory Reform Task Force, which is responsible for reviewing all of the feedback received during the commentary period. The task force will take notably burdensome regulations under consideration to determine whether they are necessary for environmental good or only serve as a barrier to business. The goal of the task force is to ultimately cut back on stifling regulations that do not serve the environmental good.

During its commentary period, the task force received over 400,000 comments and suggestions about regulations. In the coming months Darwin will lead the charge in analyzing these comments and using them to cut back on overly burdensome regulations that harm business and play no role in actually protecting the environment.

“I’m a huge believer in the power of the ‘and.’ We can both improve our economic abilities, grow our economy and at the same time protect the environment,” Administrator Darwin said.  

Administrator Darwin is also committed to improving processes for projects vital to economic growth, such as nation-wide improvements to infrastructure, by making the permitting process more navigable.

The Environmental & Sustainability Summit also featured panels addressing issues at the forefront of Arizona environmental policy, such as water, energy initiatives, corporate sustainability, an elections preview and an agency update from ADEQ.

Ava Montoya

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