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Lawmakers seek to remove federal oversight of Az air and water

Conservative lawmakers' efforts to assert Arizona's sovereignty extend to who's ultimately responsible for regulating the quality of the state's air and water.

The Senate has approved and forwarded to the House two pieces of legislation under which Arizona would ignore federal guidelines set by the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, which impose uniform standards over the amount of pollutants that can be discharged into the air and water.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, chairwoman of the Border Security, Federalism and States Sovereignty Committee, said actions by the federal Environmental Protection Agency on greenhouse gas emissions and other matters will be costly to Arizona taxpayers.

"I believe the state of Arizona is totally capable of regulating greenhouse gases within our state if we think they are causing a problem," said Allen at a committee hearing.

Sandy Bahr, director of Sierra's Club Grand Canyon Chapter, said these types of legislation are not aimed at creating state regulations for pollution, but simply aimed at getting rid of them.

"The bottom line is they object to these protections and they are cloaking it in this state rights agenda," Bahr said in an interview.

If the legislation were upheld there would be nothing in place to protect our water and air from polluting industries. The continual efforts of conservative lawmakers resisting environmental protections are not in line with the citizens who care about clean water and air, she said.

The initiatives introduced by Allen follow an executive order issued last year by Gov. Jan Brewer that withdrew Arizona out of the Western Climate Initiative.

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SB 1393, which has 10 Republican lawmakers as primary sponsors and co-sponsors, would make it illegal for any government official to enforce federal laws over greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter in the state. Sen. Steve Smith, R-Apache Junction, introduced the latter point in a floor amendment.

Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties have been consistently found in violation of particulate matter levels and have been ordered by the EPA to reduce dust pollution under an approved state implementation plan.

Smith said he added particulate matter to the bill because he thinks that Arizona is unique when it comes to the amount of dust in its air.

"There is a lot of desert out there, and it is almost unattainable to become in compliance when essentially your state is dirt and desert," Smith said in a phone interview.

SCR 1015, also authored by Allen, would have Arizona voters decide whether to amend the state Constitution to allow the state to become the sole regulatory authority over the levels of pollution that can be emitted into intrastate waterways. The resolution also would give the state Legislature the authority to define what intrastate waters are.

Colleen McKaughan, associate director of EPA's San Francisco-based regional air division, said a law attempting to remove her agency's oversight of air pollution would cost Arizona millions of dollars in federal highway funding.

"It tries to prohibit us from doing our required duties, and it's problematic," she said in a phone interview.

Henry Darwin, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, said SB 1393 is worrisome because it could cause the EPA to throw out Arizona's implementation plan for reducing particulate pollution and impose its own plan.

"Our biggest fear is this legislation will have the exact opposite of what it is trying to accomplish," he said.

Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix and minority leader of the House, said both measures would only lead the state into expensive and unsuccessful court battles.

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"They are going to end up in court, and they are going to cost the state money," Campbell said in a news conference.

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R.J. Hall

The federal Clean Air Act establishes uniform standards for the amount of particulate matter that can be released into the air from facilities such as the Navajo Generating Station near Page.

Facts about SCR 1015

  • Must be voter approved
  • Makes Arizona the sole regulatory authority over intrastate waters
  • Authored by Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake
  • Passed the Senate and has been referred to the House

Facts about SB 1393

  • Makes the Legislature the only legal authority able to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter in Arizona
  • Authored by Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake
  • Passed the Senate and has been referred to the House
  • Does not need voter approval