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By Rebecca Kern
The U.S. Department of Energy and Environment. That is the name of an agency combining the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department that Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) is advising President-elect Donald Trump to create.
Cramer, one of Trump’s first energy advisers, said he proposed the idea in a policy paper and hasn’t heard from Trump about whether he supports it. Cramer said there are administrative efficiencies that can be gained from doing this.
Legal scholars, however, question his proposal, saying the agencies’ missions differ significantly.
“I’m looking for efficiencies,” Cramer told Bloomberg BNA in a Dec. 28 interview. “Besides good policy, I think it could be pretty efficient as well—putting all of these scientists and researchers together. There are obvious connections because, really, our energy policy has largely become environmental policy.”
The EPA and the Energy Department have fundamentally different purposes, Ann Carlson, an environmental law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles Law School, told Bloomberg BNA.
The Energy Department is focused primarily on research and development, as well as overseeing the nuclear waste cleanup and the nuclear arsenal through its semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration. The EPA is primarily a regulatory agency in charge of implementing and enforcing environmental statutes.
“It seems odd to me to merge agencies with such different mandates and responsibilities, and therefore very different cultures,” she said over e-mail. “I don’t see that there would be great administrative efficiency savings given that you need very different kinds of employees with different expertise to administer DOE programs as opposed to EPA programs.”
Legislation has been introduced in the past by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) in 2012 and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) in 2011 to combine the agencies into one department. Cramer said Congress would have to vote for legislation to make such a change occur, and he plans to talk to Blackburn about re-introducing it.
Blackburn and Cramer are both members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and early Trump supporters.
They wouldn’t move forward with legislation without Trump’s support, Cramer said. But, he added, “It’s an issue that should appeal to him.”
In 2012, President Barack Obama went to Congress to reinstate the legal authority for presidents to reorganize federal agencies by executive order without congressional action, but the effort was unsuccessful.
David Schoenbrod, a professor with New York Law School, told Bloomberg BNA that while Congress has the authority to restructure agencies, it has to be careful about balancing their missions.
For example, the now-defunct Atomic Energy Commission was a federal agency with a mission to promote and regulate nuclear energy. Due to the perception of this being a conflict of interest, Congress acted in 1974 to separate the responsibilities of the agency, giving the regulatory authority to the newly formed Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the promotion authority to what eventually became the Energy Department.
He said combining the EPA and Energy Department would be a reversal of what Congress has done in the past.
Today, the Energy Department’s “mission is to promote various energy technologies, many of which are regulated for the purposes of safety by the EPA,” Schoenbrod told Bloomberg BNA. “So this would be doing the opposite. There’s no question that we want some type of balance between energy development and environmental protection. It’s Congress’s job to provide the balance, and by smashing together two agencies, Congress would not be doing its job.”
There is also the likelihood that there would be little political or public support for such a merger, scholars said.
“My best guess is that there would not be significant political support for merging the agencies given that they serve quite different constituencies,” UCLA’s Carlson said.
Also, it would be a lot of work for Congress to revise certain existing statutes that EPA is in charge of enforcing, Erin Ryan, a professor with Florida State University College of Law, told Bloomberg BNA.
“It would take a lot of legwork by Congress to redesign the statues to accommodate this kind of change, and I think that while there are certain prerogatives that the president-elect will have, I don’t foresee that there’s enough of a constituency in Congress to make that an easy job,” she said.
Carlson said she suspects the merger of the two agencies is an effort to curtail or limit EPA authority rather than making real changes to the agencies, which could lead to pushback from environmentalists and industry.
“As a result, I suspect that the environmental community would adamantly oppose the reorganization, but you might also see opposition from recipients of R&D money and other forms of DOE support who could fear that DOE’s mission would be diluted in such a merger,” she said.
Cramer indicated that are many synergies between the two agencies, and even the Energy Department’s oversight of the U.S. nuclear waste clean-up could overlap with EPA expertise.
“Most of EPA’s jurisdiction is related to energy environmental matters, including transportation, so while it’s not everything, there’s a lot,” Cramer said. Combining the expertise of the Energy Department and the EPA in the arena of nuclear waste “makes complete sense,” he said.
“I think it would be synergistic. I think you could get a lot more done with fewer resources if those two were under the same roof,” Cramer added.
But Alfred Marcus, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, told Bloomberg BNA, that he thought the nuclear responsibilities of the Energy Department are one of the crucial areas where the two agencies don’t overlap at all.
To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington, D.C., at rKern@bna.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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