Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 17, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Clean Air Lawsuit


  • State lawmakers raided funding that was intended for more mass transit to help clean the air. Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club will discuss the lawsuit that has been filed to restore the funding.
Guests:
  • Sandy Bahr - Sierra Club
Category: Environment   |   Keywords: environment, clean air, Sierra Club,

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
In an effort to balance the budget, state lawmakers raided lottery money that was designated to go to mass transit to help clean up the air. The center for law and the public interest recently filed suit to get that money back. Here with more is Sandy Bahr, the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon chapter. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Sandy Bahr:
nice to be here.

Ted Simons:
This deals with local transit assistance funds. What are those?

Sandy Bahr:
Well, the local transportation assistance fund is lottery money, and it's designated for investments in mass transit, so we can help reduce air pollution. And in our air quality plan for basically the Maricopa County area for particulates and carbon monoxide, we've said that we would use these dollars to help improve air quality, and we took credit for that in those plans as a way to get to cleaner air and now the legislature has said, OK, we're just not going to fund them.

Ted Simons:
This was originally, this passed in the mid 90s?

Sandy Bahr:
1993.

Ted Simons:
And we're talking how much money per year?

Sandy Bahr:
It's -- what they put in the plans is roughly eight to 10 million per year. And that's the only part that's actually enforceable, because these plans are federally enforceable plans, and so they take all the dollars, but we can only challenge what they put in the actual plans. What they do is they say, OK, we're not meeting the health base standards for particulates, carbon monoxide, and actually ozone as well, and this is how we are going to get to those health-base standards. And there are a number of measures in there, and mass transit is part of it, because obviously a lot of our pollution comes from transportation. And you can't -- you can't submit a plan, get it approved, and implement that plan if you take away the money that is supposed to fund those measures.

Ted Simons:
And again, because this deals with clean air act standards, because this deals with the feds, that's why you're filing suit, because the state, if it's totally within the realm of the state, I guess the legislature can do what it wants. Correct?

Sandy Bahr:
Right. Well, the clean air act allows for citizen enforcement when the government is not following its own laws, and this is another instance of that. And so again, the standards are based on, you know, what is good for our lungs. So it's about clean air, but it's also about following the clean air act. And without the clean air act, being there, we wouldn't be able to challenge it. We would be able to say it's wrong, but we wouldn't be able to challenge it legally.

Ted Simons:
When the legislature was thinking in the process of going ahead and raiding this money, what was the debate? What were you hearing as the reason why the legislature could go ahead and repeal the statute?

Sandy Bahr:
Well, they took whatever they wanted to and they were told that -- it was part of the debate on the floor, don't take these dollars. It's in the state implementation plans. It's unlawful to do this, it's wrong to do this, and at a time when -- we're trying to get into compliance with our particulates. This also affects that 5% plan, which also affects federal highway dollars. And there are a lot of issues that are riding on this, and -- but the legislature -- legislators just ignored that. And just went forward and approved it anyway.

Ted Simons:
So you're talking eight to 10 million or something along these lines a year, to get at that money, so much else was put in jeopardy?

Sandy Bahr:
Yes.

Ted Simons:
Does that make sense?

Sandy Bahr:
It makes no sense whatsoever.It’s a “Penny wise and pound foolish”, but the legislature is very good at that. That's what he did all year from the state parks, to transit, and investing in transit when you have a down economy is so important, because when people don't have jobs, or when they've had to cut back, they're going to rely more on transit because they, you know, they can't afford their vehicles. And so it makes even more sense to do it. But of course for us, we've been breathing bad air for a long time, and the state has delayed its -- it's taken lawsuits to get action repeatedly to get action, and here we are moving in perhaps the right direction with transit and they just, you know, take it away.

Ted Simons:
How important is mass transit, and just the money therein to air quality issues? We understand it's going there and the design the idea is, let's go ahead and do this to help clean the air. How much does it help?

Sandy Bahr:
It's so important to air quality, because a lot of our air pollution is generated by transportation. In fact, the ozone, I mentioned before, we have an ozone plan that’s been submitted but hasn't been approved. It jeopardizes that plan as well. Vehicles emit volatiles that react with sunlight that form ozone. It's horrible for our lungs. There's going to be a stronger ozone standard adopted in August. We are going to be out of compliance, and we need those dollars to help us meet the health-base standards to be in compliance because of -- it's important for people to breathe clean air, and also, obviously people are concerned about sanctions. Because at some point sanctions will kick in, including when the 5% plan is disapproved.

Ted Simons:
I know the governor and the department of environmental quality, you guys are the center gave them 60 days' notice --

Sandy Bahr:
that's required by law.

Ted Simons:
Any response at all in those 60 days?

Sandy Bahr:
I haven't seen any response.

Ted Simons:
So this is going forward. Give US A timetable. What's next? What happens here?

Sandy Bahr:
Well, they will respond at some point, and either they'll say they're going to reinstate the dollars, or not, and then it will escalate. I think that when people realize that it also further risks the particulate plan, which -- that's the closest to requiring sanctions. And that's where the federal highway dollars are really at risk. And unfortunately that's the only way to get the attention of the state. They generally people's lungs isn't enough. If you -- you have to say, look, we're going get serious with this with some highway dollars. So I think that once they realize that, we'll see them at least try to do something to reinstate those dollars. Because it's such a small part of the budget overall, and it's an important part of mass transit funding, and for getting us clean air.

Ted Simons:
Sandy, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Sandy Bahr:
Thanks.

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