Let’s Share CEQ Stories: and Why EPA May Not Give Retardant Regs the Attention They Deserve

Thanks to the many folks who have contacted me with their own concerns and observations about how the CEQ-Agency decision process is working. I had no idea that the concern was as widespread- and in areas I didn’t expect. So thank you all for reaching out!

My own CEQ Stories: Please Add Yours..

For me, I had expectations for the role of CEQ based on my own experiences. Absolutely each Admin can run things the way they want. Still, as it turns out, there is a vast body of people who work in and with government- what we might call Faithful Denizens of the Swamp- with many familial, friend and other connections who communicate with each other across party and other lines. I too was a Swamp Denizen and proud of the work I did as a career civil servant- trying to keep politicals from doing questionable things- and finding good ideas and floating them when different parties come into power. I I put the word faithful because most of us are faithful to values beyond a political party.. like good government, whatever that it. IMHO good government must be measured by trust, accountability, and the real-world effects on citizens (not hot air). As we used to say, the occupational disorder of DC is believing your own hype.

I have had three experiences of working directly with CEQ.
One was when I worked with Dan Magraw of EPA (assigned to CEQ) on regulation of genetically engineered organisms during the Clinton Administration. I was working at the Office of Science and Technology and the project was joint with CEQ. Dan and I were co-leads.
The second was working on the Limited Timber Harvest Categorical Exclusion during the Bush Administration (as the FS NEPA person). The third was as the FS NEPA person on the interagency NEPA group, but I’ve told that story before.

I was chuckling thinking that when I worked at OSTP (the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, like CEQ, part of the White House, but not what you think of exactly as “the White House”) the 2001 Planning Rule came through to be cleared. I raised the issue with OMB as part of the clearance process that the costs might be.. well.. underestimated. I got one of the OMB staffers interested in that, until that was shut down by our then-undersecretary (if he needed additional clout to do this, I have no idea). The story goes the Undersec complained to my FS boss at the time (Bill Sommers) who told him “what did you expect when you sent her over there?”

When we finished our interagency report on GE organism regulation, our bosses presented it to George Frampton, the CEQ Chair, with us in the room. He said basically.. no. So I think the higher ups and others had a discussion with him prior to the meeting, and that was definitely a joint Administration decision. Somehow biotech companies had the ear of the powers that were.

When I worked on Limited Timber Harvest, CEQ folks raised lots of questions. Patiently Pam Gardiner and I would answer questions,  and this back and forth went on for months. At one point Pam and I went to a meeting with Mark Rey, our Undersecretary at the time, and as I recall, Jim Connaughton, the CEQ chair dropped in to say to the CEQ staff person “enough is enough” and that was that. Again, I don’t know if Mark, the Sec, Jim, and others had had some prior convo.

I know other readers have had their own experiences. Again, any Admin can organize the way it wants to. However, if one chooses to operate differently, it will raise eyebrows among those who are used to working within the system. And my experiences are old now, but my still-friends in the Faithful Denizens of the Swamp who have emailed and called me are concerned about this new role. At the same time, a big change since the old days  is where exactly climate concerns are interspersed in all this -who hold what “climate” cards, where and how is the climate game played exactly?

Why Not Give More Work to EPA?

Yes, let’s give those poor feds another task.. rulemaking for fire retardant to the EPA! Why not? This is not negative about EPA, but they seem to already have too much to do.

First,  they’re 20K people down and say that they can’t do what’s in the IRA and BIL … see Grist story here..

Today, the workforce is around the size that it was under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The AFGE has said that the agency will need 20,000 full-time staff, a 40 percent increase, to carry out the programs it has been tasked with.

Nicole Cantello, who practiced as an EPA attorney for three decades before joining AFGE Council 238 full time in 2020, told Grist that the issue is not only with hiring, but also with retention. A dearth of promotional opportunities and limited work-from-home options have caused retirement-age employees to depart early. Roughly 20 percent of the EPA’s staff have been at the agency for 30 years or more and could elect to retire soon.


For members of AFGE, the staffing shortages are both personal and existential. A failure to address them could have repercussions for generations to come.

“Our mission has grown enormously, and climate challenges continue to escalate, but EPA’s inability to hire and retain staff has created a crisis,” said AFGE Council 238 President Marie Powell Owens in a statement. “We need to raise pay and restore career ladders now. The future of the EPA and our planet are at stake.”

The 2023 TSW Hyperbole Award may well go to Ms. Owens.

It’s also just too… hard… to keep track of all that money. Check out this non-paywalled story from Bloomberg Law. Et tu, Congresswoman DeGette?

The EPA’s inspector general raised concerns to House lawmakers Wednesday that his office can’t adequately track the tens of billions of dollars flowing into the agency from the infrastructure and climate laws under its current funding.

The comments from Sean O’Donnell and two other agency inspectors general come as some congressional Republicans’ concerns that the Biden administration is frittering away taxpayer dollars and increasing the national debt.

“Over the past two years, your federal government has been spending taxpayers’ dollars like it was Monopoly money,” said Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

But Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the panel’s top Democrat, countered that funding from the infrastructure and climate bills is crucial to protect the environment and grow the economy. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said that, despite the financial risks of pushing billions of dollars out the door quickly, the risk of doing nothing is unacceptable.

Broadly, O’Donnell and the other inspectors general pointed to shortcomings in their offices’ ability to oversee government spending. O’Donnell said he wasn’t asking Congress for new money, but “to actually use the money that’s already been given to pay for that independent audit.”

It’s kind of sad to me, as a former Faithful Swamp Denizen,when oversight is seen (by some partisans) to be a partisan issue. Is the future of the planet at stake if billions don’t go out the door fast enough? I can sympathize with those who might wonder (given the non-ground-truthed maps) whether there might be some kind of well- directed- funding in all this? My view.. if people are not trusting, don’t call them names (tinfoil hatted and all that).. become more trustworthy.

EPA EJ Office has cash, staff but not boss.. (E&E News, 3/27/23)

And finally, GAO points out that EPA has not been playing well with land management agencies as reported here earlier.

What could possibly go wrong assigning a new retardant rule to EPA?

3 thoughts on “Let’s Share CEQ Stories: and Why EPA May Not Give Retardant Regs the Attention They Deserve”

  1. If EPA truly wants to have an operational role with federal land management agencies, I suggest Congress give them the wild horse and burrow program.

  2. I was one of those people the Forest Service knew they shouldn’t let talk to CEQ. So I pursued the “interim amendment” idea (starting with the 1995 proposed planning rule) to add protective measures to forest plans when needed to quickly to deal with an emerging issue, especially newly listed or other at-risk species – using a CE – from farther down the bureaucratic ladder. This should be a no-brainer because it preserves the environmental status quo, which plenty of case law says requires no NEPA. Two or three of these tries apparently got as far as CEQ, but died there. If it’s all about conceding NEPA turf, I guess that makes sense to them. Of course I don’t know that the rejection didn’t actually come from the Forest Service, with CEQ as a convenient scapegoat.

  3. Until all politicians and Governmental agencies and FBI meet with me, all these lawsuits will just be such — agendas — yet let Yarnell Hill Fire Revelations blog be the set example as some of the posts show why Yarnell Hill Fire 2013 is the proper case studies for slurry drops when it comes to what happens when you drop slurry drop on high heat and it changes the chemical compounds and watch “where” it was dropped and look who is left alive or healthy …let me show you back channel the types of issues that came from that tragedy outside me almost dying that day as I was with the Granite Mountain Hotshots that day and they died. EPA disregarded the Yarnell Hikers when we addressed this to them. It is a serious matter. I have little faith in lawsuits – I do hope changes in Wildland Fires happens and really hope it involves the way they use slurry drops and where and timing of it.


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