Glenn Hamer

I realize that the tussle between the state and the federal government over Maricopa County’s dust mitigation plan isn’t earning screaming headlines or 60 Minutes investigations. And no, I haven’t received any calls about the issue from members of the international media like I did when immigration was the hot topic of the day. But the debate over air quality regulation is on par in importance with the other issues that have defined this almost-concluded legislative session.

At stake is billions of dollars worth of federal transportation funding, as the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) works to craft a plan to reduce the level of particulate matter, known as PM-10.

If MAG, the Arizona Department of Environment Quality (ADEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency aren’t able to agree on a plan to reduce PM-10, then the sanctions EPA could level against the region and the resulting effects could be devastating.

The struggle to come to an agreement over PM-10 reductions dates back to 2010 when EPA first indicated that it would disapprove parts of MAG’s Five Percent Plan. The Five Percent Plan establishes how the region will reduce PM-10 by five percent every year until the PM-10 readings at monitors across the valley reach the EPA-mandated levels. The MAG plan included control measures for PM-10 that were as stringent as any in the country.

Rather than have it partially disapproved, ADEQ withdrew the five percent plan at the end of January 2011. Since then, ADEQ, MAG, Maricopa County, EPA, the Legislature and key stakeholders – including many members of the business community – have been working together to amend the plan. One of the key problems with the original plan, at least as identified by the EPA, was the lack of enforceability of some measures at a state level.

To address this deficiency, the Legislature, led by the efforts of Rep. Amanda Reeve, has been working with stakeholder groups to craft a bill to ensure that the necessary air quality control measures are in place at a state level to give EPA confidence that DEQ has the tools to implement a Five Percent Plan going forward.

Rep. Reeve has sponsored H.B. 2208, which gives ADEQ the authority to create and issue a dust control general permit. This general permit would require dust-generating entities to adopt best management practices (BMPs) designed to control dust on days that are forecasted to be high risk for dust in Maricopa County. The bill also requires ADEQ to disseminate five-day forecasts that identify low, moderate and high risk days for dust generation so that all dust generating entities in Maricopa County are aware when they need to be implementing dust control BMPs.

H.B. 2208 is waiting to be third read in the Senate. I hope that this version of the bill will see the same bi-partisan support it did when it was voted out of the House. Rep. Reeve and ADEQ have been responsive to all of the business community concerns with H.B. 2208 and, while a new permit is not something that the regulated community wants, we understand the need for this measure.

With the passage of this bill Maricopa County is much closer to having a five percent plan that the EPA will approve, and the region is more likely to avoid federal sanctions.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry