FLAGSTAFF, Arizona – January 2, 2011 – New rules aimed at controlling greenhouse gas emissions will be enforced directly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in parts of Arizona, since the state refused to submit its own plan for dealing with the pollutants.
Arizona had accused the EPA of overstepping its authority in regulating greenhouse gases and said the state wouldn’t spend its limited resources on rules that run counter to state policy and might not survive congressional and legal challenges.
However, the state has reluctantly agreed to let the EPA impose the federal plan for now because the agency could have blocked construction or expansion of projects that need the air permits.
The new rules, which took effect January 2, add greenhouse gases to the list of pollutants covered under air quality permits and will eventually require the largest polluters to reduce emissions.
The federal intervention widens a rift between Arizona and the EPA, which have been feuding over a dust-control plan in Maricopa County.
“It’s not a good situation, but our approach will prevent a bad situation from getting worse,” said Benjamin Grumbles, the now-former director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, who negotiated the agreement with the EPA.
Grumbles, who left the agency last month, said everyone knows it’s important to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“It just doesn’t make sense to put all of our efforts into developing a program based on an EPA authority that is under intense scrutiny in Congress and the courts,” he said.
EPA’s move to regulate greenhouse gas emissions has resulted in sharp opposition from critics who believe the agency sidestepped Congress and overstated the threat of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
While most states have adopted the new rules, Arizona and six others did not meet the deadline and agreed to accept a federal plan until they could rewrite their own regulations. Texas has refused to comply, and the EPA plans to issue permits directly to Texas industries.
Bill Becker, executive director of the Washington-based National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said the federal government’s role in Arizona is akin to a friendly takeover.
“Practically speaking, it accomplishes the exact same result that the other states’ programs accomplish, with the exception that EPA and not the state will be issuing the permit,” Becker said.