Dust Pollution Sanctions

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Lindy Bauer, Environmental Director for the Maricopa Association of Governments, discusses the severe financial sanctions Maricopa County will face if the EPA disapproves a MAG dust reduction plan that’s been in effect since 2007.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. As early as Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency may move forward with plans to disapprove a Maricopa Association of Governments plan to reduce dust pollution. At stake are millions of federal dollars that fund transportation projects in the Valley. Here with the latest is Lindy Bauer, environmental director for the Maricopa Association of Governments. Thank you so much for being here.

Lindy Bauer: Thank you.

Ted Simons: It sounds like the EPA is saying push has finally come to shove.

Lindy Bauer: EPA indeed has said, push has come to shove, and we are very concerned about that. The Maricopa Association of Governments takes air pollution very seriously. We have 53 control measures in the plan and they are very aggressive and designed to reduce dust pollution.

Ted Simons: So what is the EPA's problem?

Lindy Bauer: According to the Clean Air Act, the plan is to reduce emissions by 5% per year until we meet the standard. The way EPA determines if you have met the standard is measured by the air quality monitors throughout the Valley. Congress in 2005 amended the Clean Air Act to allow what is known as exceptional events. These are high winds, wildfires, events beyond your control that can cause an area to go over the standard. In this case there were four exceptional events in 2008 that the Environmental Protection Agency disagrees with. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality submitted documentation showing that these four exceptional events at the West 43rd Avenue monitor were due to high winds. But the Environmental Protection Agency disagrees. Now, this, in turn, this disagreement would constitute a violation of the particulate matter standard.

Ted Simons: PM-10 is the coarse dust they are talking about, that's specifically targeted by the EPA?

Lindy Bauer: Yes, and in our region it's due mostly to fugitive dust.

Ted Simons: They are not buying the idea that these were exceptional events. Do we understand why?

Lindy Bauer: One of the main reasons it appears that they are not buying it, they have not reviewed all of the information that has been submitted. There has been a great deal of scientific information submitted by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. And our organization has also been assisting. We put our top consultants, our research on this task, and as well as our staff. The EPA has ignored a great deal of the scientific data.

Ted Simons: Do we know why?

Lindy Bauer: The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest filed a lawsuit in December of 2009, and they filed the lawsuit because EPA failed to take action on our plan, which they have had since December of 2007. They failed to take action on time. So the Center for Law in the Public Interest filed the lawsuit. Then the EPA entered into a proposed consent decree with the Center, with timing on when they intend to take action. So the lawsuit could be pushing EPA to take action.

Ted Simons: Basically, getting them working where they may not have been working before, they are working now. What happens? Give us a timetable. We have the end of the week and then the end of January next year. Talk to us about these two dates.

Lindy Bauer: These are indeed very important dates. EPA has come to an agreement for the Center for Law in the Public Interest that there would be action on the 3rd, and they would go final on January 28th, 2011. The regional administrator came to town and conducted a meeting here, and indicated that because EPA disagreed with exceptional events, this would lead EPA to disapprove the 5% plan.

Ted Simons: So what can the state do? What can the county do? What's left? Not be able to use leaf blowers anymore? What do we do?

Lindy Bauer: We already have controls on leaf blowers. There are several controls on construction, several controls on all the sources. In fact, we thought we were doing just fine, because the state indicated to us that these were high wind exceptional events beyond our control. That would have meant we would have been clean in 2008. Things have changed, however, since we did that plan. We're in a downturn with the economy, so the sources, the percent contribution from the different sources has changed. If EPA moves forward and disapproves this plan we will have to take a look at the new contribution coming from the various sources. We'll have to see if there are additional measures that can be added. It's becoming increasingly difficult.

Ted Simons: And quickly, before you go, this is a big deal, there's a lot at stake.

Lindy Bauer: There is a great deal at stake. We have a $7.4 billion transportation improvement program that includes the freeways, streets, transit, all sorts of bicycle projects, pedestrian, it's a multimodal plan. And if there are air quality -- our air quality plan is disapproved and we don't remedy the problem in time, we stand to lose $1.7 billion of federal highway funds. This could account for 61,000 jobs lost in this region. And on the day that those highway sanctions are imposed, it would impact the rest of our transportation improvement programs, the projects could be stopped and that equates to another 215,000 jobs for this region.

Ted Simons: Thank you so much for joining us tonight, we appreciate it.

Lindy Bauer:Environmental Director,Maricopa Association of Governments;

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