Mother Nature Meets Big Brother In Arizona

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Much of our state is covered by desert.

And deserts, as we know all too well, are prone to kick up dust storms that can sweep across the landscape, blanketing farms, towns and major metropolitan areas with dust and other particulate matter.

This is not exactly earth-shattering news to most Arizonans — and especially so after many of us were forced to endure some of the worst such storms in recent memory this summer (followed by an exceptionally dry monsoon season). You’d think this wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to federal regulators either.

But then, you’d be wrong.

It so happens that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is poised to impose sanctions on several Arizona localities for exceeding EPA-mandated air quality standards — even though, in nearly 99 percent of so-called “exceedances,” our state contends that these “exceptional events” (massive dust storms, followed by a lack of rain to clear away the grime) were to blame.

Even with obvious natural causes to explain

why our air might be dustier than usual, however, EPA is in no mood to back down without a fight.

If regulators move ahead with these sanctions, cash-strapped Arizona communities could lose millions of dollars in federal highway funding — all because of natural events completely outside their control.

It’s extremely frustrating, to say the least. The Arizona Republic put it this way: “The Valley has had a summer of dirty air, and you just need to check the headlines to understand why: a series of huge dust storms ... Why should it be so hard to prove the obvious?”

Yet, under EPA rules, each instance of an “air-quality violation” is assumed to be accurate unless refuted by reams of evidence to prove that even the most obvious causes were not actually the result of something man-made. As a result, our already overstretched state, local and county officials must now devote precious taxpayer resources and countless hours just to prove to EPA that there is indeed dust in the desert.

Worse, all of this will only distract our officials from the real issue at hand — namely, finding ways to mitigate the harmful effects of this dust on our air and our health. It is a classic case of a government regulation actually exacerbating the very situation it was created to address.

You may also have read that EPA was recently prevented from making things even worse when — after strong opposition by many members of Congress, including John McCain and myself — the agency dropped plans to make its rules on “dust” even more stringent.

This may be welcome news for farmers who would’ve borne the brunt of harsher regulation, but it won’t provide any respite to governments that continue to be affected by — and penalized for — naturally occurring dust in their midst, such as Maricopa and Pinal counties.

EPA has to do more than simply refrain from imposing policies that will be even more damaging. For instance, these one-size-fits-all regulations should be amended to reflect the fact that the dusty, desert-covered Southwest is just objectively different than, say, the Midwest. Without change, no matter what we do, states like Arizona will continue to get hit with sanction after federal sanction — and potentially lose out on critical highway dollars — simply because of our unique environment. It’s simply unfair.

Given this, several of my colleagues and I are working on legislative solutions to help remedy this problem. Like many Arizonans, I believe it’s time to change these one-size-fits-all EPA regulations. Mother Nature has punished our state enough this year; we don’t need Big Brother piling on too.

Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his Web site at www.kyl.senate.gov or his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/senjonkyl.

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