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The EPA’s Relationship to State, Tribal & Local Governments: & An Application to the BP Oil Spill

Updated on September 6, 2016

The EPA’s Relationship to State, Tribal & Local Governments: & An Application to the BP Oil Spill

Congress composes environmental laws; however, it is the Environmental Protection Agency’s task to form rules and guidelines. Achieving these “national standards” of environmental regulations is frequently delegated to states and tribes (EPA, 2012). State and tribal governmental agencies that find difficulty meeting federally set standards can be helped by the EPA in order to bring what is being regulated into compliance (EPA, 2012). Basically, the EPA can enforce its rules.

How Delegation Takes Place

1. Problems are identified.

2. Congress writes environmental laws.

3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency forms regulations to comply with the laws written by Congress.

4. Achieving “national standards” is regularly passed on from the EPA to State and Tribal governmental agencies (EPA, 2012).

Characteristics of the Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA does not micro-manage regulations, but instead allows states and tribal governments to achieve compliance to environmental federal standards by focusing on team work. For example, while the federal regulation for emissions is a “national standard” state and tribal governments have the ability to increase the regulation to meet their own criteria (EPA, 2012). Features of the EPA include many facets; however, here are just a few: The EPA writes regulations to enforce environmental laws written by Congress. Then the Environmental Protective Agency shares information with state and tribal agencies. Additionally, the EPA helps state and tribal governments achieve the goal of compliance. The EPA allows federally recognized tribal governments to realize their vision for Indian Territory. Moreover, the EPA identifies state and tribal governments as partners that help the United States comply with “national standards” set by Congress.

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How a State or Tribal Government Gains Access To Implementation from the EPA

For starters, the state‘s program must be at least as rigorous as the federal law, program or rule (LDEQ/ Federal Register, 2010). Importantly, the requesting government (s) must be able to show that it has ample resources to undertake the execution of the federal program. Also, the bidding state must submit a timely agenda for the implementation of the federal program (LDEQ/ Federal Register, 2010).

An Example of the EPA Entrusting a State Agency to Carrying Out Environmental “National Standards” & the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ)

One may ask, how does this delegation work? The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) yields to the authority of the EPA by presenting new information regarding delegation of the EPA’s power in applying and enforcing Particular New Source Performance Standards (NSPS). This same process was utilized regarding, “National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs) for all sources” (LDEQ/ Federal Register, 2010).

The EPA & An Example of the Tribal Strategy

There are two central components of the Tribal Strategy. First, understanding each tribes “vision” for their land is important. Indian Territory is sovereign land. Therefore, if a tribe is federally recognized it is allowed to recognize its own vision for its territory (EPA, 2012). It is important to note that one tribe’s vision does not represent each tribe’s visualization for its territory. Next, an office work plans must be developed and updated every year. The office work plan must be specific regarding purposes and actions to implement the Tribal Strategy (EPA, 2012).

Office Plan for Tribal Strategy

  1. Tribe, region, begin date and end date are identified.

  2. Mechanisms of the plan are clear.

  3. Size and the ability of the area developed are acknowledged.

  4. Long term goals are documented.

  5. “Intermediate outcomes” are identified, too.

  6. Cost is addressed.

  7. “Goals, objective and sub-objectives” are identified by the EPA (EPA/American Indian Environmental Office Tribal Portal, 2012)

The EPA is dedicated to fulfill its obligation to environmental protection within tribal territories. This includes areas inside Indian country. Additionally, areas outside Indian regions that have an effect on territory inside the Indian regions are include too, because of the impact that “activities” may have on Indian Territory’s natural resources (EPA, 2012).

The EPA & Accountability

How does the United States check to make sure that the EPA is operating as intended? The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) is a law, ratified in 1993. It was born out of a need to improve management of projects within the federal government. It is a fairly simple law that requires projects to have set goals and a way to measure advancement toward set goals. GPRA ensures that the Environmental Protection Agency has strategic plans in place. Then a measurement of the functionality of those plans and analyses of assumptions within the plans are all necessary. Reporting found results to the federal government is a part of this process, too (OMB, 2011).This allows GPRA accountability to take place.

Accountability is important when delegating authority. The GPRA aids in answerability. Under the GPRA, a five year plan is developed. Each fiscal year, agencies submit “performance goals,” stating how they will achieve what they have proposed and submit a means to verify. Furthermore, yearly reports must be submitted detailing the progress or lack of progress of the set goals (OMB, 2011).


Delegation of Power to Agencies & British Petroleum’s Oil Spill in the Gulf Of Mexico-April 20, 2010

When assessing the delegation of power to agencies and British Petroleum’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, it is essential to examine the federal government’s own agency, the Mineral Management Service (MMS). Today the MMS is a dissolved agency. Wretchedly, the MMS’ shortcomings came to light far too late. It seems as though, even though shorthanded, many government employed individuals whose job was to ensure the safety of the environment in its entirety were negligent by means of leniency when dealing with offshore drilling operations and billion dollar producing rigs.

How the British Petroleum Oil Spill Occurred & the Bare Minimum

Consider this: Sixty MMS inspectors work 260 days per year to examine 3800 platforms (Thomas, 2010). Given an eight hour work day, each inspector works 2080 hours per year. Sixty inspectors multiplied by 2080 hours equals 124,800 work hours devoted to the platforms each year. Considering there are 3800 platforms attended to for 124,800 hours, this allots 32-33 hours per year devoted to each platform, theoretically thinking. Furthermore, British Petroleum’s environmental and social responsibility seemed to be missing.

The Money, the Industry & the MMS

Arguably, a record of $800 Billion in profits and $21 Million in fines during a twenty-year period for an activity plagued by safety issues is somewhat concerning (Thomas, 2010). Between 2006 and 2009 there were thirty casualties and 1,300 injuries. According to Pierre Thomas, of the 1300 people injured and thirty workers killed while working on offshore rigs in a three year period, “Workers died in fires, fell through holes in platforms, and were crushed and killed by falling pipes.” Federal records studied by ABC News uncovered, “… chronic safety problems.” It is obvious, that compliance, assistance and monitoring by the MMS was lacking.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Was it a “blowout preventer” or was it human error across the board? Decide for yourself. “Offshore, on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), the Minerals Management Service (MMS) of Department of the Interior (DOI) is the designated regulatory agency. MMS oversees leasing operations and shares responsibility for environmental regulation with EPA” (EPA-Compliance Sector Notebook Project, 2000).

  • Deepwater Horizon was BP’s setup.

  • Transocean was the lease holder of the platform.

  • Halliburton was the outfit working on the rig when the catastrophe occurred.

It could be argued that the easiest thing any individual or entity involved in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill did was point the finger at each other trying to dismiss blame from themselves, their organization and their agency. The truth is that safety regulations were ignored in a grand fashion. Safety had been lacking in an overall sense well before April 2010.

There is no question that risk assessment was missing. Yale Environment 360 reported that the MMS under the Department of the Interior habitually allowed off shore drilling operations immunity from utilizing environmental impact statements (EIS) on a platform by platform basis. And in 2009, BP’s Deepwater Horizon received a “categorical exclusion” (Holly Doremus, 2010).

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Corrective Actions & the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force Includes the Following:

  1. Department of Defense

  2. Department of Justice

  3. Department of the Interior

  4. Department of Agriculture

  5. Department of Commerce

  6. Department of Transportation

  7. Environmental Protection Agency

  8. Office of Management and Budget

  9. Council on Environmental Quality

  10. Office of Science and Technology Policy

11. Domestic Policy Council

In addition to the list above this includes, “executive departments, agencies, and offices as the President may, from time to time, designate” (Federal Register, 2010). Furthermore, President Obama designated five state agents. These representatives work on behalf of the Gulf States and were recommended by the governors of the states affected. Likewise, tribes whose territory was affected also designated representatives. These States’ and Tribal representatives act in an “official capacity” with the authority of the federal government (Federal Register, 2010). The Task Force partners with affected tribes to define an applicable configuration for tribal contribution in problems and solutions inside the application of the Task Force’s duties (Federal Register, 2010).

Then, appointed by President Obama, Lisa Jackson was the Chair of The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Ms. Jackson was replaced by Bob Perciasepe in 2013. He is the current Chair of The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. However, Ms. Jackson was accountable for the response phase through the part of the restoration stage. That responsibility now belongs to Bob Perciasepe. Duties include engaging state, tribal, and local governments, as well as stakeholders in communication. These communications include subject matter regarding ecosystems, overall recovery, economics and public health (Federal Register, 2010). Additionally, the Chair must coordinate efforts between agencies and offices. These intergovernmental transactions foster competency, success and stakeholders’ involvement because communication and safety go hand in hand. In addition to the Chair, each state designated a Vice Chair to the Task Force. This is an example of the delegation of implementation of federal regulations to State and Tribal governments (Federal Register, 2010). As well as, local government and public stakeholders each have a chance to voice their concerns and give input.


Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act)

Congress enacted the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act)” (The White House Blog, 2012). But the question remains: What does the future hold for the Gulf of Mexico?

  1. Restoration
  2. Problems yet to be identified
  3. Inter-governmental agency collaborations
  4. Risk assessments for offshore drilling operations
  5. A new reality

Consumers Drive the Market

It is clear to understand why the delegation of implementation of federal programs is necessary to, at times, give to State, Tribal and Local governmental agencies. However, prior to the BP Oil Spill the federal government allowed agencies, such as the MMS, to go unchecked. Furthermore, British Petroleum literally threw caution to the wind. It is not the federal, state, tribal or local government’s job to implement safety management on privately own entities. The MMS under the Department of the Interior should have been taking steep action against offshore drilling dangers. The MMS knew and did little to nothing. The MMS was supposed to be the watchdog. But, under that watchful eye of the MMS, BP and the MMS ’risk assessments may well be described as phantom documentation.

As consumers individuals need to realize that (we) are part to blame. Consumers thirst for oil. When the price of a barrel of oil goes up individuals complain. And, when the BP oil spill occurred individuals were appalled by the degradation of the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. BP’s application of environmental safety management was a disgrace, the MMS’s absence is evident, but consumers drive the market. It is time to curb the appetite for oil. Who is to blame? We all had hand in this disaster. Some stakeholders played a much larger part than others. Today, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force is an example of how the federal government delegates its power of implementation to State, Tribal, and Local government bodies.


Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. (2012).

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. (2010). Federal Register / Vol. 75, No. 71

Shapiro, Fred. (2011). A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words. Fred R. Barnard.

The White House. Office of Management and Budget. (2011).

The White House. Office of Management and Budget. (2011).

Thomas, Pierre. (2010). ABC world News with Diane Sawyer. Offshore Drilling: Years of Lax Oversight, Small Fines for Serious Violations.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2010). Newsroom. EPA Establishes Web site on BP Oil Spill / EPA launches site to inform the public about health, environmental impacts of spill.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2012). Our Mission and What We Do. Develop and Enforce Regulations.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2012). American Indian Environmental Office Tribal Portal.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2010). Newsroom. EPA Establishes Web site on BP Oil Spill / EPA launches site to inform the public about health, environmental impacts of spill. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2012). Our Mission and What We Do. Develop and Enforce Regulations.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2012). American Indian Environmental Office Tribal Portal.

© 2014 Suzanl


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