Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 1, 2010

Host: Ted Simons

Air Quality Violations

  • Maricopa County is in danger of losing millions of dollars in federal funding because of repeated violations for dust in the air. Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Benjamin Grumbles explains the situation.
  • Benjamin Grumbles - Director, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
Category: Environment   |   Keywords: environment, air quality, dust, pollution,

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Tonight on "Horizon" -- Maricopa County could lose a billion dollars in federal highway funds because of pollution violations. I'll talk to the state's top environment official about that. An international conference dealing with water sources and wastewater treatment is being held in the valley. We'll hear from one of the conference organizers. And find out what's being done to reclaim and make safe federal land in Arizona. That's next, on "Horizon."

"Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.

The U.S. Supreme Court today denied a request to block matching funds to candidates running under Arizona's clean election law. The court did leave open the possibility of a full appeal of the ninth circuit's decision to uphold matching funds. The Goldwater Institute late today filed another request to the high court to stop distribution of the funds.

Today's news helped push a guvernatorial candidate to quit the race. Republican John Munger says he's dropping out because the Supreme Court's decision creates a, quote, "unequal playing field" for candidates.

The environment protection agency recently ruled that Maricopa County cannot blame dust storms for dust pollution violations. The county is allowed just three violations in a three-year period. There were four violations in 2008 alone. That could mean the loss of federal funds. Here to talk about the situation is Benjamin Grumbles, director of the Arizona department of environmental quality. Good to see you.

Benjamin Grumbles:
Good to see you, thank you.

Ted Simons:
What's at stake seems to be the idea that dust storms which were counted as exceptional events and now it’s not going to -- the EPA saying they're not exceptional events anymore.

Benjamin Grumbles:
They say it depends and they know it when they see it. And we stand behind the analysis we provided to them and we're disappointed but absolutely commited to making progress on the environmental front.

Ted Simons:
Why did the EPA decide this? Again, more of your thoughts on this?

Benjamin Grumbles:
What is at stake is we know the area is violating the Clean Air Act and we're on a absolutely constructive path toward progress but we need to show the EPA that there were exceptional regional dust storms and that needed to be taken into account and what they've decided is, no, we looked at the pictures, we decided that you're violating the act. This plan is probably going to have to be disapproved. So we're disappointed but we know by collaborating with MAG and the Maricopa County governments we're going to make progress and clean up the air.

Ted Simons:
The plan, if it were disapproved, that means starting over and federal funds at stake, correct?

Benjamin Grumbles:
That's a road we felt we didn't have to go down with EPA, so we're discouraged they didn't take into account the data we provided because it does lead, eventually to a disapproval of a strong plan that has 53 control measures in it. But the good news is we are fully committed to making progress, continuing to make progress under a new plan if we need to revise the plan to control dust. And so we'll work with EPA, as we have been doing. We're just disappointed by their decision on the exceptional events factors.

Ted Simons:
Talk more, if you will, on what's at stake. Up to a billion dollars, more, in highway funds?

Benjamin Grumbles:
Environmental progress is key, but it has to be taken with economic prosperity. And so EPA is signaling they're going to start a process where new projects moving into the area would be subject to the loss of funding. Transportation projects would be put on hold. Highway funds would be a loss. That's a sanction that's down the road. And ultimately, there would be a federal plan, the EPA would federalize local efforts to control dust. That's a worst case scenario and we feel there's no reason to go in that direction because we're all committed to controlling dust and making progress.

Ted Simons:
You talk about if this plan has to be revised, changed, whatever, you're ready to do it. How would it need to be changed? What do you see the things that need to be addressed?

Benjamin Grumbles:
It would be helpful if EPA can articulate a basis, a sound scientific basis for denying the exceptional events part of the equation. But the other positive thing, that we know will continue to be good for the air and for the citizens of Maricopa County are for the local governments to continue to stay on message and pave dirt roads, sweep streets, keep off-road vehicles out of areas and trails where they create dust problems and continue to work with the agricultural community to employ best practices and keep the dust out the air and work with the construction industry too.

Ted Simons:
The EPA referred to the construction industry and understands that construction happens and dust flies but they say the violations used after the downturn in the construction industry and that can't be used as a excuse.

Benjamin Grumbles:
We're not looking for excuses. We know one of our biggest challenges is dust, and part of it is because we live in a desert and we have regional storms and heavy wind that creates problems and we also know, and EPA knows that we know this, that it takes everyone being involved in solving the problem, using the different types of practices to control dust. To be smart about it, to have smart growth practices, policies in place. We're -- we're excited about the future because we know we have the foundation for a sound plan with 53 control measures in it. We think that we -- we're at, I know we're all going to sit down with EPA and local governments and continue to work on strengthening those plans and bringing in agriculture, transportation, construction industry, the mining associations and say, we need to make more progress and we don't need to put EPA in charge of the local planning.

Ted Simons:
It seems like things like non-compliance especially in Maricopa County is almost a tradition. Yet we don't hear about it in Pima county and other areas. Parts of southern Arizona that are deserts as well. How come?

Benjamin Grumbles:
You look at the natural conditions that -- the topography, the way the wind currents are and the temperature in the valley. We live here in the valley in a particularly unique place, between the mountains and wind patterns and the temperatures. The fact that you have a dry -- dry riverbeds, whether it's the Gila or the Agua Fria and definitely the Salt River, those dry river beds are definitely a factor that can contribute to the particle pollution factors. And it's a variety of natural factors at play. And our point to the EPA, take those into account but let's work together. We can do things. We're responsible, as local and regional agencies to grow in a smart way and control dust. Which is one of the biggest threats we have to air quality in the area.

Ted Simons:
It sounds like the EPA's message was to you, we're serious, let's get something done. Message received?

Benjamin Grumbles:
Message received and the relayed message to EPA, we know we're in this together. Let's focus on collaboration over confrontation and use our scientific data and let's work together to solve the problem.

Ted Simons:
We appreciate it.

Benjamin Grumbles:
Thanks, Ted.

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