Ohio EPA Will Leave National Group, State Director Says

Ohio EPA Will Leave National Group, State Director Says
by | September 29, 2011

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Nally announced on Tuesday his agency's plan to leave the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA) by the end of the year.

Nally tells Governing he feels the association no longer represents his state's interests. In particular, he was frustrated with the association advocating for positions pushed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about which his and other states had expressed skepticism. He says he expects some of those other states will soon follow his lead.

Bill Becker, executive director of NACAA, tells Governing Nally announced his state's depature without ever contacting NACAA about his concerns. "The politics changed," Becker says, noting that Nally was appointed by Republican Gov. John Kasich after Kasich won the governship in November 2010.

"We are disappointed that Ohio has expressed its desire to leave NACAA this year," Becker says, "but we still have a robust and strong organization that is geographically and ideologically diverse. The door will always be open for them to return."

If Ohio follows through with its plan to leave NACAA, then three Ohio officials currently serving as chairmen on association committees will have to be removed and replaced, Becker says, "much to our chagrin."

Below is a transcript of Nally's conversation with Governing about the decision. His answers have been condensed and edited for clarity.

What preceded your decision to leave NACAA, and what factors ultimately persuaded you to make it?

This was not a decision that was made overnight. This was not a decision that was done haphazardly. This was a decision that took several years. I came to Ohio from Indiana, where I was the deputy director [of the state Department of Environmental Management]. So, I've had a lot of interactions with NACAA historically. There have been several instances over the years where states have become quite frustrated with personal agendas being pursued rather than representation of the states. Eventually, you've had enough of it.

Recently, we've had letters sent out from NACAA to legislators of the federal government on behalf of the states, that has not been agreed upon by the states. So, we've had a conversation among those states, asking: "What are we going to do about it?" Ohio took a leadership role on this and made it official. We'll actually walk from NACAA at the end of the calendar year. I will send an email out to my other state partners, asking for a conference call to see if there are other like minds, that we might be able to pull ourselves and perform the duties that we need to as states, communicate our message to legislators and not have personal agendas.

Can you pinpoint any specific issues that you believe NACAA's position has deviated from Ohio's?

The organization is supposed to provide messaging from state governments, Ohio being one of 50, to our legislators when needed. Right now, our federal legislators are wrestling with a lot of very difficult issues, especially with the budgets. There were some letters sent out under NACAA letterhead, allegedly representing the states' opinion, taking some positions that Ohio and other states have been questioning. We've been questioning some of the rule-making and the guidance of the U.S. EPA. When NACAA sends a letter that supports [the U.S. EPA's positions], when there are multiple states that are questioning it, that is completely out of bounds. NACAA was told not to send the letters.

When we're in a budget crisis, as we are now in state government and all other forms of government, we submitted letters from the states to [other environmental] agencies, saying "Please don't raise your [membership] rates. We don't have the budget to cover them." NAACA was the only one that raised their rates when we told them not to. Of course, they can do what they want to and in this case, they did.

Do you see this as a permanent break or could a change of leadership or direction at NACAA convince to rejoin the organization?

I'm open to that, but only if there is a leadership change and a reworked charter would Ohio be willing to entertain the discussion. That has to be on the table, and it has to be both of them.

How does Ohio move forward in advocating for its positions related to clear air on a national level? Do you have a sense of whether other states will follow suit?

I guess we're going to be on our own for a while, and we'll figure it out. The training component piece [for state and local officials] -- we'll have to fill the gap on that. As for the U.S. EPA giving updates on policies and regulations, we'll be receiving a separate one. We'll make do. We're going to limp along for a while, and we'll figure it out.

I'm going to assume that other states will be leaving NACAA. Multiple state directors came up to me and were interested in the direction that we're going. I told those states that I'll be sending something out in the near future and setting up a conference call to see if there isn't some way we can solve this: asking for a leadership change and asking for a charter change. Or there is the possibility that we'll just go off on our own.

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