July 2018

Wednesday Luncheon

Insight into the regulatory process . . .

Understanding the Process – and the Regulators –

Important to Rural Water Mission, KDHE Leader Says

ural water districts and cities are

closely acquainted with state and

federal rules and regulations that

govern their operations.

And districts and cities don’t always

love them, noted Tom Stiles, the assistant

director of the Bureau of Water at the

Kansas Department of Health and


“I’d say no function of government

generates more angst, more anger, than

regulations,” Stiles said.

Stiles, who delivered the keynote

address during the Wednesday luncheon

of the Kansas Rural Water Association’s

2018 annual conference, said it might be

useful for a review of why and how

regulations came to be.

Stiles profiled the different kinds of

people who “find themselves on the

wrong side of regulation.”

“One personality is the “hardliner,”

who does not understand why

government is in the business of

regulating and has no intent to

comply with any regulations,” he


The second kind of person lives in

“a world of gray,” Stiles said.

“They may understand the need

and the intent for a regulation, but

say ‘our way is a better way to get

there,’ “ he said. 

The third person Stiles described is

the “careless abider,” who may try to

follow regulations, but trip up when

it comes to technicalities, such as

failing to leave a signed copy of a

stormwater plan on a site when it’s


“About 99 percent of all land in

Kansas is privately held,” he said. “That

generates natural friction between

government and those private property

owners who often believe they should be

able to govern themselves as they see fit.” 

KDHE is the local agency that

enforces the federal Environmental

Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water

Act. It’s an example of “cooperative

federalism,” where the two levels of

government are working together on the

same rules. But there’s often a difference

in the culture of the two agencies, he

said, that can be complicated to navigate. 

There are also two general kinds of

regulators: the strict constructionalist,

who believes the letter of the law is

indeed the law; and the liberal

constructionalist who believes that the

spirit of the law should guide them.

One need to look no further than the

Kansas Turnpike for an example of

liberal constructionalists,” he said. “I’ve

yet to see someone actually drive 75

(miles per hour).”

“KDHE relies on technical assistance

from KRWA to help the small towns in

Kansas get it right when it comes to

abiding by the regulations, both for the

Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean

Water Act as well,” he said. 

Another piece of the process is the

federal agency’s enforcement component,

when the agency uses fines or other

methods to ensure that a town or a

system complies with the regulations. 

The current secretary of the EPA, Scott

Pruitt, was an attorney general in

Oklahoma – which will likely shape his

approach to interpreting rules and


“An attorney general’s first oath is to

uphold the rule of law,” he said. “The

EPA administration is not going to turn a

blind eye on existing law. A law is a law.

That’s something you’re going to see go

away from the results of the last


“Something that has changed in the

new federal administration is the way the

EPA provides guidance to state agencies


Tom Stiles: “I have enough of a libertarian

streak in me that I get the need for limited

government in our lives. But here’s the

thing: streams and groundwater don’t

care about our property lines.”

Tom Stiles, Assistant Director of the

Bureau of Water at the Kansas

Department of Health and Environment,

provided the noon luncheon address on

March 28. 

By Sarah Green