Conservation groups protesting Arizona attempt to take over part of Clean Water Act


Ted Simons: CONSERVATION GROUPS ARE CHALLENGING ARIZONA'S ATTEMPT TO ASSUME AUTHORITY OVER A KEY PROVISION OF THE FEDERAL CLEAN WATER ACT. HERE WITH MORE IS SANDY BAHR, DIRECTOR OF THE SIERRA CLUB'S GRAND CANYON CHAPTER. WELCOME BACK. NICE TO SEE YOU.

Sandy Bahr: NICE TO SEE YOU.

Ted Simons: SO ARIZONA WANTS TO CONTROL A PART OF THE FEDERAL CLEAN WATER ACT. HOW DOES THAT WORK?

Sandy Bahr: WELL, UNDER THE FEDERAL CLEAN WATER ACT, PROGRAMS CAN BE DELEGATED TO THE STATE IF THE STATE DEMONSTRATES THAT IT CAN FUND THE PROGRAM, AND ENFORCE THE PROGRAM, AND, YOU KNOW, MAKE SURE THAT IT'S IMPLEMENTED IN A COMPARABLE MANNER.

Ted Simons: WELL, BEFORE WE GET TO THOSE POINTS. LET’S TALK ABOUT THE PROGRAM. THIS IS 404. WHAT IS SECTION 404 PROGRAM?

Sandy Bahr: SECTION 404 REFERS TO THE SECTION IN THE CLEAN WATER ACT, AND THESE ARE CALLED DREDGE AND FILL PERMIT. SO ANY TIME SOMEONE IS DEPOSITING MATERIALS INTO WATERS OF THE UNITED STATES, OR IF THEY ARE DIVERTING WATER, DIGGING, DREDGING, THEN THEY NEED TO HAVE A PERMIT, AND THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO SHOW THAT THEY DON'T HAVE A GOOD ALTERNATIVE TO DOING THAT, AND ALSO THAT THERE WON'T BE A SIGNIFICANT DEGRADATION OF THE WATER.

Ted Simons: CURRENTLY ADMINISTERED BY THE ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS?

Sandy Bahr: THAT'S CORRECT.

Ted Simons: AND WHY ISN'T THAT GOOD ENOUGH FOR ARIZONA?

Sandy Bahr: WELL, THE STATE PURSUED A BILL THIS SESSION IN THE LEGISLATURE TO -- TO BE ABLE TO GO AFTER THIS PROGRAM, AND BASICALLY, WHAT THE STATE HAS SAID IS WE CAN DO IT FASTER-- STREAMLINE THIS PROGRAM.

Ted Simons: SO BASICALLY BUSINESSES ARE TIRED OF THE DETAILS AND THE REGULATION AND THE RED TAPE AND WHATEVER THOSE MIGHT BE GOING THROUGH THE FEDS, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEER. LET'S GO THROUGH A NEW STATE DEPARTMENT? A CURRENT STATE DEPARTMENT, DEQ? WHAT?

Sandy Bahr: THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY WOULD BE THE SEE TO ADMINISTER THEM, AND YES, THEY SAY THEY CAN DO IT FASTER. BUT FASTER DOESN'T MEAN BETTER OR STRONGER OR PROTECTIVE OF THE RESOURCES, AND THAT'S A KEY CONCERN OF OURS.

Ted Simons: LET'S GET BACK TO THOSE FIRST TWO POINTS YOU MADE EARLY ON. ARIZONA, DO WE HAVE PEOPLE IN THE STATE WITH EXPERTISE TO LOOK THROUGH THESE PERMITS, LOOK THROUGH THESE INDIVIDUAL SITUATIONS AND GRANT A THUMBS UP, THUMBS DOWN?

Sandy Bahr: WELL, NO, NOT IN THE STATE AGENCY. CURRENTLY THEY WOULD HAVE TO HIRE PEOPLE, AND DEVELOP A PROGRAM AROUND THIS. AND THAT'S ONE OF OUR CONCERNS. THEY ALSO -- BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE FUNDING FOR IT, THEY ARE GOING TO RELY ON PERMIT FEES FOR THE PROGRAM, SO YOU WOULD HAVE TO SET UP A PROGRAM BEFORE YOU HAD ANY FUNDING TO ADMINISTER IT.

Ted Simons: IT WOULD SEEM, THOUGH, THAT A PROGRAM FUNDED BY PERMITS WOULD ENCOURAGE MORE PERMITS, WOULD IT NOT?

Sandy Bahr: YEAH, THAT'S BEEN A CONCERN OF OURS WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY OVER ALL. THEY HAVE MOVED MORE AND MORE TO FUNDING THE PROGRAM WITH PERMIT USE. AND SO THERE IS A REAL INCENTIVE FOR TURNING OUT PERMITS. AND DON’T GET ME WRONG, THERE ARE A LOT OF REALLY GOOD PEOPLE WHO WANT TO DO THEIR JOB, WANT TO BE PROTECTIVE OF THE ENVIRONMENT, BUT THIS PUSH TO, YOU KNOW, MOVE PERMITS, I THINK, IS A DISSERVICE TO THEM AS WELL AS TO THE RESOURCES THAT NEED PROTECTION.

Ted Simons: HAVE WE SEEN A SIMILAR PUSH FOR THIS KIND OF ACTIVITY IN THE PAST?

Sandy Bahr: THERE HAVE BEEN OTHER PROGRAMS THAT THE STATE HAS PURSUED, INCLUDING CLEAN WATER ACT PROGRAMS, SOME CLEAN AIR ACT PROGRAMS. THIS PARTICULAR PROGRAM ONLY TWO OTHER STATES HAVE PRIMARY CONTROL OF THE PROGRAM, MICHIGAN, AND NEW JERSEY, AND WE HAVE LOOKED AT WHAT OTHER STATES HAVE FOUND. I MEAN, IT COSTS A LOT MORE. IT'S VERY EXPENSIVE.

Ted Simons: HOW MUCH MORE? WHAT KIND OF COST?

Sandy Bahr: WELL, OREGON -- NO VIRGINIA ESTIMATED LIKE $18 MILLION OVER -- OVER FIVE YEARS. THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY IS SAYING THEY THINK IT WILL COST A COUPLE OF MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR, BUT, YOU KNOW, THEY HAVEN'T DONE A ROBUST ANALYSIS. THAT WOULD BE PART OF THE PROCESS.

Ted Simons: I'M JUST TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHY THE PUSH AND WHY NOW? DO THINK THEY THERE IS A SYMPATHETIC EPA NOW THAT WILL GRANT THEM THIS?

Sandy Bahr: YES, EXACTLY. THEY ARE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF A PRETTY WEAK EPA. THEY JUST CHANGED ADMINISTRATORS AT THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF TURMOIL THERE, AND SO THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY THINKS THIS IS A GOOD TIME. BECAUSE EPA IS MORE FRIENDLY TO GIVING THE PROGRAMS TO THE STATES RIGHT NOW TOO, SO -- AND THAT'S ANOTHER CONCERN OF OURS, THAT EPA WON'T GO, OH, YOU HAVEN'T REALLY SHOWN US THAT YOU CAN ADMINISTER THIS PROGRAM, BUT WE'LL GO AHEAD AND GRANT IT TO THEM, AND OUR WATERS WILL SUFFER.

Ted Simons: BUT IS IT NOT POSSIBLE THAT THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRON MENTAL QUALITY COULD DO THIS JOB BETTER AND FASTER?

Sandy Bahr: NOT THE WAY IT’S CONSTRUCTED CURRENTLY. ONE THING I’D REALLY LIKE TO POINT OUT ABOUT THIS IS IF THE STATE TAKES CONTROL OF THIS PROGRAM, THERE'S NO POLICY REVIEW, SO THERE'S NOT THE KIND OF PROCESS THAT ALLOWS THE PUBLIC TO REVIEW, AND SCRUTINIZE AND COMMENT ON THESE PERMITS, AND THE STATE – THE STATE HAS NO COMPARABLE PROCESS, SO BEFORE IT COULD EVEN CONSIDER LOOKING AT TAKING A PROGRAM OF THIS ON, THE STATE SHOULD IMPLEMENT A STATE ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT, AND -- AND MAKE SURE THAT THERE IS APPROPRIATE REVIEW, PUBLIC INPUT, THAT THEY ARE LOOKING AT ALTERNATIVES -- BECAUSE THERE -- THERE COULD BE MUCH LESS HARMFUL ALTERNATIVES THAT AREN'T EVEN EVALUATED.

Ted Simons: YOU MENTIONED THE WORD CONSIDER. WHY NOT JUST LET THE STATE CONSIDER THIS, FLOAT THIS OUT HERE, WORK WITH THE EPA AND SEE, AND IF IT LOOKS UNTENABLE, YOU JUST DON'T DO IT. FROM A DISTANCE, IT SOUNDS LIKE THEY ARE KIND OF OPENING THE DOOR. LET'S TAKE A LOOK AT THIS. SHOULD THEY JUST TAKE A LOOK AT THIS?

Sandy Bahr: WELL, THE THING THEY SHOULD TAKE A LOOK AT, IS WHETHER OR NOT THEY SHOULD EVEN DO IT. AND THAT'S NOT WHAT THEY ARE EVALUATING. THEY ARE JUST MOVING FORWARD, LIKE WE'RE GOING TO DO THIS. AND THEY MADE THAT VERY CLEAR IN THE PROCESS. SO THEY ARE NOT SAYING SHOULD WE TAKE ON THIS PROGRAM. THEY ARE SAYING, WE'RE GOING TO, AND THIS IS HOW WE'RE GOING TO DO IT.

Ted Simons: SO FULL STEAM AHEAD?

Sandy Bahr: THAT'S RIGHT. THEY STILL HAVE TO BE GRANTED THE AUTHORITY, BUT, YEAH, THEY ARE MOVING FORWARD FULL STEAM AHEAD. AND OUR WATERS ARE TOO IMPORTANT. WE DON'T WANT THEM TO TRY IT OUT ON IMPORTANT WATERWAYS.

Ted Simons: AND YOU JUST MENTIONED THIS. THE FINAL DECISION, THOUGH, IS WITH THE EPA.

Sandy Bahr: THAT'S CORRECT.

Ted Simons: IS THIS THE KIND OF THING THAT WILL BE DECIDED ON IN A COUPLE OF YEARS? WOULD A NEW ADMINISTRATION IN WASHINGTON CHANGE THE WHOLE BALL OF WAX?

Sandy Bahr: WELL, IT'S POSSIBLE IT WOULD BE DECIDED WITHIN THE NEXT YEAR OR SO. IT DEPENDS ON HOW LONG -- THE ENVIRONMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY HAS A PROCESS AND THEY WILL HAVEDEVELOP FORMAL RULES AND TO REQUEST AUTHORITY FROM THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY. I GUESS IT DEPENDS ON WHAT HAPPENS WITH THE ADMINISTRATION --

Ted Simons: THAT'S MY POINT. WHO KNOWS WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH ANYTHING IN THESE DAYS

Sandy Bahr: RIGHT. RIGHT.

Ted Simons: BUT THE TRUMP AS ADMINISTRATION IS ENCOURAGING STATES TO ASK FOR THIS, AREN'T THEY?

Sandy Bahr: RIGHT. AND THEY HAVE A REAL DEREGULATION AGENDA. DEREGULATION MAY SOUND FIND UNTIL YOU REALIZE YOU LOST SOMETHING IMPORTANT AND YOU CAN'T GET IT BACK. THE REASON WE HAVE ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS, INCLUDING THE CLEAN WATER ACT, IS TO TRY TO PREVENT HARM, AND THERE ARE SOME THINGS YOU JUST CAN'T FIX.

Ted Simons: ALL RIGHT. SANDY BAHR. GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE.

Sandy Bahr: THANK YOU.

Conservation groups are challenging Arizona’s attempt to assume authority over a key provision of the federal Clean Water Act. In a letter sent to state policymakers, the groups raise concerns about the state’s ability to effectively enforce this law, which protects U.S. waterways. Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, will discuss the concern of conservationists.

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Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter

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