Governor Gregoire, responding to calls to decrease Washington’s regulatory burden on businesses, signed Executive Order 10-06, and in so doing, suspended new rule making by Washington agencies through 2011. The order suspends “non-critical” rulemaking, and directed the Office of Financial Management to publish guidelines for when an agency can proceed with the rule.

What does this mean from an environmental perspective? Ecology has already responded by publishing a list of rulemaking actions that will proceed. This list may be amended, but the most striking feature is how short the list is. As of this post, only five rules are proceeding. All of these rules are mandated by federal requirements, and would have consequences in terms of losing federally- delegated regulatory authority if they do not proceed.

The list of what is apparently being suspended is long. At the time of the signing of this Executive Order, Ecology alone had over thirty new rules or amendments to existing rules in the pipeline. I’ve been following a few rules in the works, including the efforts to update the Model Toxics Control Act and the Sediment Management Standards (“MTCA” and “SMS” respectively), as well as updates to the Solid Waste Rules. In addition, it will be interesting to see whether Ecology proceeds with water quality standard updates, which are somewhat tied to the MTCA rulemaking process, at least in terms of sharing some concepts about risk assessment.

The apparent suspension of the MTCA and SMS rulemaking process has implications for how some of the larger sediment cleanup sites may be addressed in the near term. As the process stood prior to the suspension, the MTCA and SMS rulemaking process was going to proceed through 2011. Now, it is difficult to say when those rules will be updated, but the schedule will probably be pushed back at least a year, if not more. Although Governor Gregoire’s purpose in signing this order was to reduce burden on businesses in a tough economic climate, some of the MTCA and SMS revisions being considered may have been helpful in giving businesses more certainty with regard to resolving cleanup liability.

It will be interesting to see if Ecology expands its list of rules that proceed. The guidelines issued by the Office of Financial Management give exceptions to the order, including one that allows rules to proceed where they will benefit businesses. Potentially, this could be an opportunity for businesses in Washington to begin a dialogue with Ecology and push Ecology to take the next year to adjust its regulatory framework to decrease burdens on businesses.

These guidelines also direct agencies to redirect resources away from rulemaking to “front-line service delivery,” including enforcement of existing rules. Does this mean that businesses regulated by Ecology may face a stable regulatory environment, but one that also includes more enforcement scrutiny? I’ll be curious to see if this leads to an uptick in environmental enforcement . . .