PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona lawmakers are proposing utility-backed legislation for state regulators, not their federal counterparts, to regulate the disposal of toxic ash produced by coal-fired power plants.
The bill would transfer regulatory responsibility from the United States Environmental Protection Agency to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the Arizona Republic reported.
A invoice narrowly approved by the State House last month was approved by a Senate committee on Wednesday, with a Democrat joining Republicans on the bill as other Democrats voted against it. If the bill remains unchanged, passing the full Senate would send it to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
Proponents of the bill, including the Department of Environmental Quality itself, say the agency has the expertise and knows the utilities involved, including Arizona Public Service Co., Tucson Electric Power Co. and the Salt River project.
Opponents have questioned whether the DEQ should take on the added liability, suggesting it could weaken enforcement. They cited the close ties between the utilities and the DEQ and the problems the agency has had in monitoring water quality.
The legislation is being considered as the Biden administration has begun taking enforcement actions that signal a shift from the Trump administration’s loosening of regulations.
“The EPA has actually been in the process of doing the kind of enforcement needed for some time in relation to these facilities, so we think it’s doubtful that DEQ will pursue that at this time,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon chapter. of the Sierra Club, which opposes state capture.
The utilities say they must comply with environmental regulations regardless of the proposed change and note that the legislation would require state rules to be as stringent as the EPA’s.
“We support a state monitoring program (coal ash) because it is more efficient to work with someone on site who understands the conditions in which our facilities are operating,” the Tucson Electric Power spokesperson said. Co., Joseph Barrios.
Coal ash, left over when power plants burn coal to generate electricity, contains toxins like arsenic, mercury, lead and other heavy metals. Ash can be disposed of in landfills, ponds, or safely recycled into some building materials.
But if not done properly, landfills and ponds can leach pollutants into the drinking water supply or fail catastrophically.
Arizona has four coal-fired generating stations in operation: the Cholla Generating Station in Navajo County, the Springerville Generating Station and the Coronado Generating Station in Apache County, and the Apache Generating Station in the County of Cochise.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Gail Griffin of Hereford, said the state should seek to take on more of the federal government’s responsibilities, even beyond the coal ashes.
“We should be working to take care of things here at the local level, at the state level, (rather) than someone sitting in California or Washington, DC,” she told a hearing in January. “We can do better.”