Feds could impose air plan on Arizona

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX (AP) -- A 2010 state law designed to prevent Arizona from limiting greenhouse gases could prevent state regulators from coming up with a plan to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants without approval from the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has repeatedly opposed new federal regulations.

That means the federal government could be left to choose how to implement new air rules proposed by President Barack Obama this week. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules are designed to allow state regulators to come up with the most efficient and least costly ways to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

But the 2010 law specifically barred new state rules or regional agreements to reduce greenhouse gasses without approval of the Legislature. Gov. Jan Brewer's office believes the law also would apply to implementing new federal greenhouse regulations, as does the state's version of the EPA, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Rep. Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande, said despite the Legislature's history of pushing back against the federal government, lawmakers might go along even if they grumble a bit.

"Everyone would rather deal with ADEQ than Region 9 EPA," Pratt said Wednesday. "We don't want to have to go to them for approval every time we want to do something in Arizona."

Pratt chairs the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which plans meetings next week to hear from energy producers and others about how the state will be affected.

"Arizona's got some pretty stringent standards here, and we don't know exactly how they're going to apply to us or how we're going to comply," Pratt said.

The state environmental quality agency also will have to gather information on what the new rules must address before starting the process of writing them. Director Henry Darwin said in a statement that while the 2010 law requires legislative approval, it does not prevent the agency from meeting with the power industry to map a response. He noted new rules won't be needed for a few years.

The leader of a prominent environmental group said she doubts lawmakers will clear an easy path to the new rules.

"The state has an opportunity to do the right thing ... but to do that they have to get the Legislature to approve it, and this Legislature has been busy putting up roadblocks," said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Arizona chapter. "So it would be a nice change if they did the right thing."

Brewer's spokesman said she objects to the proposed rule and believes the EPA has overstepped its authority.

The federal power plant rules announced Monday require an overall 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. They're designed to cut the amount of the greenhouse gas being pumped into the environment.

In Arizona, the cuts would be much steeper, 48 percent by 2030 based on 2012 levels, when the state's power plants pumped out more than 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The state gets 36 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants, the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.

The 2010 law was designed to stop former Gov. Janet Napolitano's proposal to adopt California's tougher vehicle emissions and fuel standards. Another part of the proposal was to participate in a regional "cap and trade" program developed by a group of western states, but the Legislature failed to pass that measure.

Nevertheless, a year later the Brewer administration pulled out of the Western Climate Initiative.

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