I spoke today with Winston Hickox, who served as secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency from January 1999 to November 2003. He took issue with Terry Tamminen’s contention that the state’s umbrella environmental agency had “done a poor job of integrating” the resource agencies it oversees.
Hickox said CalEPA has long recognized the regulatory threats posed by cross-media pollution — pollutants that start in one form and end up in another. He pointed to a 2000 report that spelled out the threats posed by those pollutants.
“An agency office like CalEPA is predominately a coordinative function,” said Hickox, who served under Gov. Gray Davis. “It doesn’t have any … regulatory authority. It can do things to encourage a cross-media view of the world.”
MTBE, an additive that helped gas burn more efficiently, was introduced in 1979. It boosted air quality, but was a toxic water pollutant. Underground gas tanks leaked the chemical into water supplies. Tamminen said it was the poster child embodying the challenges of communicating between air and water regulators.
“When I went in as secretary, MTBE was the poster child for our failure to always coordinate,” Tamminen said. “We’ve made some real progress on that and it continues.”
Hickox acknowledged MTBE’s role a poster child, but pointed out that he — not Tamminen — served as CalEPA secretary when the state banned the additive.
Hickox also noted that the regulatory gap we described needs state-level attention.
“The laws that relate to the environment begin at the federal level and they’re constructed like silos,” Hickox said. “It ends up creating a group of people focused specifically on a set of laws that are related to a medium.”