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Lawmakers Assert AZ Authority to Regulate Clean Air

March 17, 2011

PHOENIX - Arizona lawmakers are using a states'-rights argument to claim authority to regulate air pollution, specifically greenhouse gases and particulates. But Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter, says air pollution is clearly a federal matter because dirty air doesn't stop at state lines.

"There have been a number of studies that air pollution here hits other states, and air pollution from other states also comes to Arizona."

The bill is titled the "Freedom to Breathe Act" but Bahr says it's more like a "license to pollute." She says lawmakers are on shaky constitutional ground with the measure because the federal Clean Air Act has been consistently upheld in courts since its creation during the Nixon administration.

The bill has passed the state Senate and awaits action in the House of Representatives. Bahr says lawmakers need to remember the human toll that results from inhaling particulates.

"It's hard to breathe on days when the air quality is poor. It triggers asthma attacks and emergency rooms see a lot more children (and) the elderly."

In the past, Bahr says, state lawmakers have been unwilling to take action to fight air pollution.

"The Arizona Legislature has historically waited until there's a crisis before acting to protect air quality. Usually, it is the result of a lawsuit that is forcing compliance with the Clean Air Act."

The state is under the gun to adopt a plan to reduce air pollution in metropolitan Phoenix or face the loss of federal highway funds among other penalties.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ