The EPA’s Smart Sectors Program

Jacqueline Mietus
Associate Editor
Loyola University Chicago School of Law, J.D. 2019

In October 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) launched the Smart Sectors Program, a program that creates a collaborative partnership between the EPA and regulated sectors such as the automotive, agriculture, and mining industries. The program provides a platform for the EPA and regulated sectors to collectively develop approaches to protect the environment, public health, and the economy.

What is the Smart Sectors Program?

In the 1990’s, the EPA created the Common Sense Initiative as a result of the Clinton Administration’s proposal to “reinvent government.” The Common Sense Initiative sought to reformulate the EPA’s regulatory process. In 2003, the Sector Strategies program was launched under the George W. Bush Administration. The Sector Strategies program shaped solutions to environmental issues, enabled communication between the EPA and industries, and increased transparency, among other achievements. However, the program was terminated shortly after in 2009.

In October 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) launched the Smart Sectors Program, a product of the Common Sense Initiative. The Smart Sectors Program is a collaborative partnership between the EPA and regulated sectors. Scott Pruitt, the EPA Administrator stated, “The Smart Sectors Program is designed to effectively engage business partners throughout the regulatory process.” The EPA believes that a partnership with the drivers of the American economy can bring significant environmental improvements. The current list of regulated sectors under the program includes: aerospace, agriculture, automotive, cement and concrete, chemical manufacturing, construction, electronics and technology, forestry and wood products, iron and steel, mining, oil and gas, ports and marine, and utilities and power generation. Over time, the list may grow.

A program lead will serve each sector and act as an ombudsman within the EPA. The program lead will maintain open dialogue with trade associations, analyze data, advise on options for environmental improvement, and develop reports regarding the impact of each sector on the economy and the environment. In addition, the program lead will conduct educational site tours and host roundtables with EPA officials.

“When we consider American business as a partner, as opposed to an adversary, we can achieve better environmental outcomes,” asserted Scott Pruitt.

What do industries have to say about the Smart Sectors Program?

The overall consensus among regulated sectors appears to be excited anticipation for “better, smarter regulations.” Representatives of several industries under the Smart Sectors Program have come forward to support the partnership, and welcome the opportunity to engage in open, constructive dialogue with the EPA. Hal Quinn, the President and CEO of the National Mining Association asserts that having the opportunity to explain industrial operations will provide insight to the EPA regarding actual conditions in regulated sectors and lead to more effective regulatory policies. Mitch Bainwol, the President and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, insists that the Smart Sectors Program will benefit industries by “providing an open and transparent dialogue on policy that is predicated on solid facts and meaningful data. Protecting the environment while supporting economic growth – these twin goals are paramount, mutually supportive, and enabled by thoughtful collaboration between government and business.”

What does this mean for the future of EPA regulation?

Scott Pruitt stated, “The previous administration created a narrative that you can’t be pro-business and pro-environment. This program is one of the many ways we can address that false choice and work together to protect the environment. When industries and regulators better understand each other, the economy, public, and the environment all benefit.”

The cost of complying with environmental regulations may plague industries, causing industries to feel that EPA-imposed regulations are impractical in relation to their operations. Thus, industries are hesitant to comply with regulations that will, in the words of Consumer Technology Association’s President and CEO Gary Shapiro, “handcuff innovation and job creation.”

Environmentalists argue that the Smart Sectors program does not protect the environment, and simply aims to reduce regulatory burdens on industries, which seems to go against the very purpose of the agency. Liz Perera, the director of climate policy at the Sierra Club, claims that Scott Pruit is “openly selling out environmental protection in America to every corporate polluter he can find.” Many environmental activists believe this program only furthers Pruitt’s intent to cancel regulations that hinder industries.

In contrast, regulated sectors seem to welcome the program. The new Smart Sectors Program aims to develop creative solutions based on sound data, decrease operating costs, incite more innovation, and increase long-term certainty and predictability. An open dialogue allows each side to emphasize their needs, concerns, and goals. This communication will enrich policy creation and enhance compliance with regulations. Todd Johnston, the Executive Vice President of Portland Cement Association, stated that the collaboration will “protect health and the environment while reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens that undermine economic growth.” Accordingly, smarter regulations will allow manufacturers to be more competitive and create more jobs. According to the EPA and regulated sectors, collaborative efforts between the EPA and regulated sectors will benefit the public, environment, and the economy.