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The Clean Air Act Creates a Nightmare for Yuma County

Environmental & Regulatory Policy Advisor
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by Amanda A. Reeve

We have all heard, and likely even experienced its meaning on numerous occasions, the old adage of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Finding oneself in this position is most unpleasant as it means there are no viable options out of the dilemma.  Interestingly enough, Yuma County, Arizona finds itself precariously stuck in this state of affairs by air of all things . . . a fact that served as the hot topic during the Arizona Manufacturers Council’s August 2016 Environmental Summit.

This year’s summit featured two-days of outstanding discussions, presentations and presenters. Both days featured some of Arizona’s most experienced professionals in their respective fields; federal, state and local regulators; and several prominent elected officials.  However, the one topic that seems to have caught most everyone’s attention is in regard to the dilemma in which Yuma County finds itself with respect to air quality issues.  An hour-long panel discussion brought to light how Yuma County’s position between the rock and hard place has turned into a nightmare with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) implementation of the 2015 ozone standard of 70 ppb (“2015 Ozone NAAQS”).

The question is why a county that consists of 5,514 square miles of land, most of which is open desert, with a population of approximately 205,000 would be at risk of exceeding the 2015 Ozone NAAQS. The principal industries in Yuma County – agriculture, tourism and national security as it is home to two significant military installations: the U.S. Marine Corp Air Station and the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground – do not collectively generate enough ozone pre-cursor emissions to exceed 70 ppb.

The answer is actually provided in the EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis of the 2015 Ozone NAAQS: the prominent sources of ozone emissions in Yuma County are from California and Mexico. This is extremely troubling for Yuma County because the emissions that are causing it to violate the 2015 Ozone NAAQS are from sources that are entirely out of Arizona’s authority to control.  Yet, a significant portion of Yuma County may likely be designated marginal nonattainment, forced to implement additional regulatory controls, and likely require offsets from any major source that either modifies its operations or moves into the area.  Of course, between the current lack of major source emitters and not having any offsets available in the Emissions Bank, Yuma County doesn’t have to worry about attracting new or growing any businesses.

The Clean Air Act has proven to be a tremendous nationwide success in improving air quality; but it fails to appropriately address global pollutants, especially the transport thereof.  The panel discussion, as well as remarks later made at the Summit by U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, revealed that both he and Senator John McCain recognize that modifying the Clean Air Act with commonsense solutions is paramount to ensuring that it does not fail in its intended purpose.  Otherwise, unless the state of California and the country of Mexico reduce their ozone emissions, Yuma County is in an impossibly tough spot.  In other words, until the Clean Air Act is modified, Yuma County is stuck between the rock of federal law and the hard place of other’s excess emissions out of its control.