Business groups quiz Senate candidates on federal environmental rules

Nov 1, 2012

Arizona’s natural resources are a big part of the state’s economy.

And thousands of jobs in energy, mining, logging and tourism are affected by federal environmental rules.

Arizona Public Radio asked environmental and business groups what questions about the environment they would like to ask candidates for Arizona’s U.S. Senate seat.

In this second of two reports, business organizations want to know where the candidates stand on the role of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Business groups say the EPA is threatening the state’s economic future.

In particular, they’re worried that a plan to reduce haze over the Grand Canyon could shutter the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station near Page.

And they say other EPA plans, like one that aims to reduce dust from construction sites and farms in Arizona, overstep the federal government’s authority.

Glenn Hamer is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He has this question for Republican Jeff Flake and Democrat Richard Carmona. They are running for the Senate seat held for 18 years by Republican Jon Kyl.

“What reforms would you propose to protect Arizona’s mining, construction and other affected industries from an overzealous EPA?”

Republican Jeff Flake says the EPA overreaches its authority.

He wants the federal government to grant more regulatory power to the state’s environmental agency.

“I have proposed what’s called the Clear Act. It’s a bill that would require the EPA to follow its own law, the Clean Air Act, which requires them to consider a state implementation plan before issuing a federal implementation plan,” Flake says.   

Democrat Richard Carmona says environmental regulations should be reasonable and should not unnecessarily impede business.

“Everybody wants clean air and water but we don’t want to overregulate,” he says. “The fact that some people say we’re trying to regulate dust in the desert, that’s absurd. How could you do that? It should be driven by science and not conjecture.” 

The EPA’s rules require dust to be kept down with water, vegetation or gravel at construction sites, farms and unpaved roads and lots.

That’s something both candidates say is probably impossible during Arizona’s infamous dust storms.  

I also asked folks at the Arizona Rock Products Association which environmental issues loom large in the Senate race.

Again, the EPA topped the list.

Steve Trussell is the executive director of the Arizona Rock Products Association. He’s concerned about the EPA’s plan to limit haze from the Navajo Generating Station in Page.

He has this question for the candidates.

“What is your position on the administration’s war on coal?”

Democrat Richard Carmona says, “First of all, I don’t believe there’s a war on coal. I think those are convenient political sentences, but they’re meaningless. We need to be driven by science. This issue of haze is not supported by science.”

But Republican Jeff Flake says the Obama administration is waging a war on coal.

“I don’t know what else you could label this but a war on coal. When you try to impose a fix that would cost $1.1 billion. That’s far beyond the ability of the plant owners to recoup. It wouldn’t just jeopardize jobs at Navajo and the mine that feeds it. It would eliminate them. That would be devastating for Northern Arizona and particularly the Navajo Reservation.”

Both candidates pledge support for Navajo Generating Station and the coal industry.

Flake says since most of the water for the Central Arizona Project is pumped by electricity from the Navajo plant, the EPA plan could drive up the cost of water for Phoenix and Tucson.

And it would become more expensive for farmers. 

“That would cause farmers where they can to go back to groundwater, and that would be devastating for our underground resources environmentally,” he says.

Carmona says he supports the development of clean coal, but he believes it must be economically feasible.

“(Coal) is an essential component of our energy in this state,” Carmona says. “Thirty percent of our energy comes from coal. We must do everything we can to support it, and not just support it, but help it to grow.”

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Rock Products Association have both endorsed Jeff Flake.