Over the last several weeks, I’ve introduced two pieces of legislation aimed specifically at addressing immediate crises in Arizona: overregulation of air quality standards for the state, farmers, and ranchers; and the city of Tombstone’s access to repair their vital water sources. And, I’m proud to report a significant victory for recreational shooters in the Sonoran Desert National Monument.
Recreational Shooting Protection Act
We scored a big victory for recreational shooting privileges in the West, specifically in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert National Monument. Here’s the back story: Presently, the United States Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) can decide to close off public lands to recreational shooting activities unilaterally and unchecked by any other federal entity. The Interior Department recently targeted more than 600,000 acres of public lands in the Ironwood Forest and Sonoran Desert National Monuments in Arizona for closure to recreational shooting. This latest string of proposed federal land closures comes on the heels of the BLM sealing off to recreational shooting nearly 450,000 acres of publicly-owned, national monument lands across three states in 2010.
In an effort to stop the BLM’s bureaucratic overreach and keep more federally-owned lands open to recreational shooting, I introduced H.R. 3440, the Recreational Shooting Protection Act, which would compel the BLM to promote and enhance recreational shooting opportunities on national monument lands and add a much needed layer of congressional oversight. Under the bill, any recreational shooting restrictions proposed by the BLM would require congressional approval. Proper congressional oversight is greatly needed to prevent the closing of public lands to recreational shooting by bureaucratic fiat.
In March, the Recreational Shooting Protection Act was included in a larger piece of legislation, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, H.R. 4089, which passed the House in April.
Recreational shooters scored another victory soon after the Recreational Shooting Protection Act was passed. Earlier this month, the BLM backtracked on its proposal to close to recreational shooting the lands included in the Sonoran Desert National Monument. The BLM announced that the final environmental impact statement for the monument will retain hunters’ rights to engage in recreational shooting across the nearly half-million-acre monument.
Emergency Water Supply Restoration Act
You may have heard by now of the water dispute in Tombstone. As background, Governor Brewer declared a state of emergency for Tombstone in August 2011 and allocated funds for emergency repairs to the city’s aqueduct and surrounding springs damaged by the Monument Fire. According to Tombstone officials, the aqueduct has accounted for between 50 and 80-percent of the city’s water supply in recent years and is critical to the health, safety, and economy of Tombstone’s residents. Unfortunately, citing the 1964 Wilderness Act, the United States Forest Service has severely delayed and, in many cases, blocked Tombstone’s efforts to repair this water source. They have stated that the Wilderness Act prevents the Forest Service from issuing permits for use of “motorized” equipment to make the necessary repairs because it could disturb the surrounding wilderness.
While the Forest Service hasn’t been exactly helpful in securing the necessary permits to repair Tombstone’s damaged aqueduct and springs, the Wilderness Act ties their hands and places undue bureaucratic restrictions on the ability of the City of Tombstone to make the repairs they need.
In an effort to cut through this red tape and ensure that state and local authorities are able to promptly make reasonable and necessary repairs to restore water supplies and infrastructure during a declared state of emergency, I introduced H.R. 5791, the Emergency Water Supply Restoration Act. State and local authorities ought to be free from federal obstructions when working to quickly restore water to taxpaying citizens during a state of emergency.
While we’re on the subject of overregulation, let’s talk about dust regulations. Last July’s dust storm that rolled between Tucson and Phoenix was nearly a mile high at its largest point and brought visibility down to absolute zero at several points on its 50-mile-wide path across the desert. It grounded planes for an hour and a half and left thousands of cars, buildings, and homes caked in a thick coat of grime. Not surprisingly, the storm caused pollution levels in the area to skyrocket. It’s been reported that the level of dust reached more than double the level federal standards consider healthy the day after the storm hit.
Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for air quality pollutants, including dust. Whether a state is currently meeting the standards or already failing to attain them, instances of exceeding the CAA standards can have costly regulatory consequences even if they are caused by so-called “exceptional events” - or events like last summer’s dust storm that are simply beyond human control. Ranchers and farmers in arid parts of the country like Arizona are already forced every year to spend too much money mitigating dust. But asking them to pay more to get rid of dust caused by natural phenomena completely outside their control is completely unacceptable.
In order for states to exclude specific exceedances of air quality standards often caused by naturally-occurring events such as dust storms, they must submit costly and complicated demonstration projects to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its review. However, the EPA is under no pressure to review this paperwork in a timely manner. Additionally, the current regulations governing exceptional events demonstrations leave the decision entirely at the discretion of EPA, and the decisions are not appealable.
Late last week, the EPA announced it will be redesignating parts of Pinal County as being in “nonattainment,” meaning that the county is violating the dust standard and must clean up its air.
The only way for an area to get free of air quality red tape associated with “nonattainment” is to have a record of not violating standards. Given the number of events that happen in our part of the country that simply cannot be controlled, now more than ever we need a workable plan to exclude these air quality exceedances caused by exceptional events. Toward this end, earlier this month, I introduced the Commonsense Legislative Exceptional Events Reform (CLEER) Act. The CLEER Act remedies these costly and burdensome exceptional events regulations with commonsense reforms in part by requiring the EPA to review states’ exceptional events documentation within 90 days of submission; affording states deference to decide what should be excluded; carrying out a rulemaking in concert with the states on what exceptional events demonstrations should include; and making their decisions on exceptional events demonstrations appealable. The CLEER Act is supported by a wide variety of air quality stakeholders both in Arizona and on the national level.
Here’s the bottom line: States, farmers, and ranchers shouldn’t face bureaucratic penalties from the EPA for naturally occurring events, like dust storms. The CLEER Act will make the process to exempt these exceptional events clearer, faster, and less costly. For Maricopa County’s ongoing air quality issues as a result of exceptional events and now likely Pinal County’s, I hope to see swift action on this bill.
Summer may just be beginning, but if federal agencies continue to lay the heavy hand of regulation on Arizona’s cities, farmers, and ranchers, it’s going to be a scorcher.
Should you have any questions or comments, please feel free to visit my website http://flake.house.gov to send me an e-mail.
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