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Clean air advocates respond to proposed changes to rules that govern vehicle emissions in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality held a public meeting today on proposed changes to rules that govern vehicle emissions. Arizona follows California's more stringent clean car rules. But DEQ is recommending it follow federal rules, instead. Here to talk about the implications of the move are Jennifer Bonnett, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, and Stacy Mortensen, director of the American Lung Association. DEQ was invited to join us but they couldn't provide a participant. The clean cars program, described it for us.

Jennifer Bonnett: In 2008, Arizona decided to follow the more stringent California rules in an attempt to create better air quality in Arizona. It looks at a little more strict rules. The federal guidelines are a little bit less.

Stacy Mortensen: I would say they are a little less stringent on what vehicles can be put on the road in the first place. It certainly involves new vehicle models and certain controls they need to have in place. The federal policy is just like we said, just a little less stringent.

Jennifer Bonnett: It also includes a certain percentage of zero emission vehicles that are supposed to be part of the fleet which the federal government does not have.

Ted Simons: And Arizona was not alone in joining these standards, correct?

Jennifer Bonnett: There are 13 other states that are in these standards.

Ted Simons: How binding are the standards? What are we really talking about here?

Stacy Mortensen: The federal standards?

Ted Simons: The California standards.

Stacy Mortensen: It's important to continue to follow the California standards because it is the most stringent. And Arizona right now struggles with air quality so much that, to go backwards on this to the federal standards that require less, it's just the wrong thing to do at this time.

Ted Simons: You see it as the wrong thing to do. DEQ says it's the right thing to do. What did you hear at the hearing today?

Stacy Mortensen: We heard at the hearing today primarily an economic impact. We heard a little bit about the legislature and a new rule that went into place about new rules going forward. But this is not a new rule. As Jennifer mentioned, this was put into place in 2008. We certainly have strong concerns when it comes to dealing with public health. The American Lung Association's state of the air report shows the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area as the 19th most ozone polluted city in the country. We have great concerns about that.

Ted Simons: But DEQ says it's not worth it. Sounds like the cost doesn't justify what's being done here. Talk to us about that.

Jennifer Bonnett: DEQ says it's a negative legitimate I believe difference. According to the numbers in 2009, their own numbers, along with the ZEV we're looking at a 3% to 5% reduction by 2025, which we think is quite significant. Especially when we are suffering in our air quality and we have to take every tool that we can to reduce that amount.

Ted Simons: When the clean car program was started in 2008, and the national level was maybe here and clean car was here, has that gap narrowed over the years?

Jennifer Bonnett: It has narrowed, but California is still more stringent. Maricopa County and several counties throughout the state continue to struggle with staying within proper air quality levels. So this, along with many other tools, need to be put together to try to reduce that.

Ted Simons: I'm trying to figure out what DEQ is thinking here. Sounds like they are saying that it's neglibible, and the gap is closed so far, why worry about the costs when you're getting pretty much as the federal standard? That pretty much what you're hearing?

Stacy Mortensen: That's what we heard, that would be accurate.

Ted Simons: Why would that be wrong?

Stacy Mortensen: That's wrong because the percentages used today in the hearing were significantly lower than a report we've seen out of DEQ before. So that's one thing. But the other thing that they were -- that really, the issue on the table for the hearing today was repealing this rule. And if it's negligible, why go backwards? Why not stay with something that is stringent and has a better impact?

Ted Simons: If it makes a difference.

Jennifer BOnnett: And I'd like to add, that we were not provided with any evidence showing their economic analysis that this is cost savings going to the federal rules. They did not look at all these issues that we were bringing forward. And the cost of treating asthma and other health-related issues is quite significant.

Ted Simons: Is there any kind of state statute that prohibits the state from more stringent standards, than federal standards, along these lines? Anything?

Stacy Mortensen: None that we could find or are aware of. Even the federal standard says that everyone should be at the federal standard or higher.

Ted Simons: Right.

Stacy Mortensen: So itgives you plenty of room to be at their level or this California level. Again, with the way that Arizona struggles, there's no reason we shouldn't be a leader in this in the country.

Ted Simons: Talk about how this kind of paves the way for alternative energy vehicles, how this kind of pushes the process.

Jennifer Bonnett: By having a certain percentage of zero emission vehicles required on the road, you kind of build that incentive to advertise, to promote. And there's been a lot of -- DEQ will say the cost of infrastructure is insurmountable. There is a local company that received a $100 million grant from the federal government to start to build the infrastructure. That's private money, federal money and private companies. It's quite interesting. Again, no economic analysis from DEQ showing where this cost was.

Ted Simons: We had those folks on the program a couple of times when they first got up and going. Also, in terms of progress with transmission issues and air-conditioning, I think if you have this particular goal, that pushes the process along, correct? Kind of cleaning up these particular aspects of vehicles?

Stacy Mortensen: Absolutely, absolutely. It gives folks here the opportunity to be exposed to these cleaner fuel vehicles and be able to explore those. There was a compelling gentleman at the hearing today who talked about an electric vehicle his family owns that gets 50-mile to the gallon and is just kind of a regular gasoline vehicle they have that gets 19. He said he's saving significant money by having access to this electric vehicle.

Ted Simons: Your point is that that may not even be occurring without the standards, this sort of goal?

Jennifer Bonnett: Exactly. To be looking at this repeal now when at the end of July EPA is going to come down with new regulations, it seems short-sighted and unwise to take a tool away that we might have to need and start over again.

Ted Simons: What do we know, what are we expecting from EPA here?

Stacy Mortensen: They are -- what we're hearing that is there will be tighter controls on how much ozone can be emitted. Again, we're already struggling and putting plans together around the state, because we're not attaining current standards. So to have to meet even tighter standards is going to be a significant challenge for Arizona.

Jennifer Bonnett: Currently the standards are at 75 parts per billion. The EPA is looking at the range of 60 to 70 parts per billion. If it goes to 60 parts per billion, the entire state will be out of attainment.

Ted Simons: Last question, and it's a political question so go as far as you want on the question. Sounds like the Governor is not a big fan of the clean car program, especially because it was instituted by a previous administration. Are the politics such -- it's going to be very difficult to get past that.

Stacy Mortensen: We're not sure where this hearing will go from today. There were a lot of comments about significant benefits that will come from keeping this program intact. Again, primarily great health benefits for Arizonans. There are cost savings available so there are significant arguments. Where it will end up, we don't know.

Jennifer Bonnett: Another thing I would add from the hearing that was quite impressive was the economic impact for Arizonans. When we pay for fuel that money goes out of the state when. We have electric cars, that's money saved in your pocket and spent in Arizona, it creates jobs in Arizona, as well.

Ted Simons: Thank you both so much for joining us tonight.

Jennifer Bonnett: Thank you.

Stacy Mortensen: Thank you.

Jennifer Bonnett:Arizona Public Health Association; Stacey Mortensen:American Lung Association;

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