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State Agency Backs Out of Managing Clean Water Act in AZ

One group involved with the campaign to keep ADEQ from assuming authority over the Clean Water Act was Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, Tucson-based activists fighting to keep an open-pit copper mine from operating in the mountain region. (mdurson/AdobeStock)
One group involved with the campaign to keep ADEQ from assuming authority over the Clean Water Act was Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, Tucson-based activists fighting to keep an open-pit copper mine from operating in the mountain region. (mdurson/AdobeStock)
December 11, 2019

TUCSON, Ariz. – Conservation groups are applauding the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality's decision to not pursue authority over a key provision of the federal Clean Water Act.

Fifteen groups, tribal nations, cities and counties raised objections during the public comment period to ADEQ assuming the dredge and fill permit program, known as Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The groups questioned the state's ability to ensure continued compliance with the Endangered Species Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, says they prefer the Army Corps of Engineers continue to manage the permits.

"Department of Environmental Quality had its budget just dramatically slashed in recent years,” says Serraglio. “Lost a lot of staffing. Their enforcement capability has been cut to the bone because of a succession of administrations who have this anti-regulatory mentality."

The ADEQ rescinded its application to take over the Section 404 permits in Arizona after conservationists pointed out the agency's poor record of enforcing environmental regulations on the state's waterways.

Serraglio says the Arizona environmental agency has a history of preferring commerce over the environment, which can leave natural areas vulnerable.

"So many of our threatened and endangered species in Arizona rely on riparian and aquatic habitat for survival,” says Serraglio. “And when we see the Department of Environmental Quality giving short shrift to endangered-species concerns, obviously that's a huge red flag."

Serraglio believes the state agency may be too close to some of its stakeholders to properly protect the state's waterways.

"It's all ideological,” says Serraglio. “I mean, it's all part of their desire to grease the skids for industry and make it easier to get permits and easier to circumvent meaningful protections for the environment and public health."

Serragio's group, along with others including the Grand Canyon Sierra Club, Tucson Audubon, the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance and Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, said a strong public review process is an important element of programs such as the National Environmental Policy Act.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ