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Thinking Boldly: Simplify, Simplify : Regulation: A 'lead agency' concept could streamline the environmental bureaucracy to help save jobs for California.

March 30, 1993|GRAY DAVIS | Gray Davis is California's controller.

Anyone doing business in Los Angeles County today has to contend with 72 different agencies that enforce environmental regulations: 44% are state agencies, 38% are local and 18% are federal.

This is repeated throughout California, where good intentions--protecting our precious natural resources--conflict with creating a good business environment.

Whether Democrat or Republican, environmentalist or industrialist, Northern or Southern Californian, all of us have a stake in finding a way to protect our natural resources without driving away business.

It's easy to blame environmentalists for our maze of regulations. But when the rule books were written, most environmentalists lobbied for simple regulations. Lobbyists for some polluting industries worked hard to make the rules complex, ensuring loopholes they could slip through.

Whatever the origin of this Byzantine system, it is critical that we fix it.

California's environmental protection laws were put in place during an economic boom. Today, the equation is different. The regulations shouldn't hamstring businesses that want to do the right thing on the environment.

Our challenge in 1993 is to think boldly and creatively to solve such problems. Government's job should be to ensure that our environment is not polluted and that companies can look to the public sector for help in complying with our regulations. It is appropriate for government to seek ways to provide relief to keep jobs here.

I suggest we develop a "lead agency" concept to streamline cumbersome environmental regulation, based on the theory that it is not the regulation that businesses complain about, but rather the process they must go through to comply.

California should conduct an inventory of environmental regulations in each category of enforcement--air, water, soil, safety. Where more than one agency enforces the law (which is almost every instance), agencies should agree on which one of them will take the lead in dealing with businesses.

If there is no agreement, the Legislature should designate the agency with the most stringent standard as the lead. That should satisfy environmentalists.

No one should confuse "streamline" with "weaken." That is not my intention.

At the same time, businesses will save time and frustration by knowing precisely what regulations they must satisfy.

The point is to eliminate process as the goal of regulation and replace it with results. Too often, environmental bureaucrats are more concerned with completing their forms and paperwork than with protecting jobs and the environment of California. That has to change.

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