The EPA strikes back

By Linda Bentley | June 11, 2008

ADEQ mapCAVE CREEK – Last week, Sonoran News Editor/Publisher Don Sorchych submitted petitions for a referendum of the dust ordinance with over 200 signatures of which 70 needed to be valid.

However, late Tuesday he received his petitions back from town hall accompanied by a letter from Town Clerk Carrie Dyrek stating, “This letter is to inform you that the petitions submitted in connection with Referendum REF2008-01 will not be forwarded to the Maricopa County Elections Department for signature verification based on the attached opinion from the town attorney.”

Meanwhile, the city of Phoenix is forging ahead with its light rail project, scheduled to be up and running by December.

In fact, Valley Metro is already outlining future extensions to the light rail line and stated, “Accountability measures in Proposition 400 require performance audits of light rail and other modes every five years beginning in 2010. While specifics on the performance measures have not been identified, we are confident the METRO light rail system will receive high marks, as the initial 20-mile line has already passed stringent federal standards.”

Still six months away from startup and two years away from its first audit, Valley Metro is proclaiming the heavily subsidized project, which available data indicates will increase air pollution, has already “passed stringent federal standards.”
So, even though studies show light rail will further foul the non-attainment area’s air, the feds seemed to have no trouble turning over millions in transportation dollars to help fund the project.

Cave Creek, on the other hand, is not even being monitored for what it is being asked to reduce, so citizens are being required to blindly spend large sums of money to help achieve “attainment,” so cities such as Phoenix can knowingly pollute the air with projects receiving federal money.

Nonetheless, because the legislature designated about 3,000 square miles of Maricopa County and a portion of Pinal County as a non-attainment area, Cave Creek, one of the last bastions for a rural, ranch and equestrian lifestyle in Maricopa County, was mandated, by statute, to pass some form of draconian anti-dust ordinance to combat air pollution.

Maricopa County said it launched its “Running Out of Air” campaign to make people aware of the importance of clean air and to think about ways citizens can contribute to the reduction of air pollution.

Various municipalities in the non-attainment area have handed out building permits for decades for residential and commercial projects that allowed the complete blading of section upon section of land, which was determined to be one of the primary causes of PM-10 pollution.

Cave Creek doesn’t allow that type of development, requiring disruption only within building envelopes for each home in a subdivision, while preserving wildlife corridors and native vegetation.

However, during a Cave Creek Town Council meeting, Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley revealed the underlying reason for legislatively mandating the adoption of dust ordinances throughout the non-attainment area; $8 billion in federal transportation funds were at stake.

Cave Creek Mayor Vincent Francia wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency in May stating the mandates on this rural equestrian community imposed an unfair financial hardship on his citizens without any data to suggest Cave Creek is in violation of the federal PM-10 national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) and asked to have Cave Creek removed from the non-attainment area at least until such a time a monitoring station for PM-10 could be installed in town.

According to representatives from Maricopa Association of Governments, which coordinated the submittal of all the various municipal ordinances to the EPA for approval, the closest PM-10 monitor is about 22 miles away from Cave Creek in Surprise.
PM 10
On May 27, Colleen McKaughan, EPA Region IX Associate Director, Air Division, responded to Francia, citing, “The boundaries of the Maricopa County PM-10 non-attainment area (or the Phoenix planning area) are defined under 40 CFR 81.303 and include the town of Cave Creek.”

She stated the boundaries have been in place since the enactment of the Clean Air Act in 1990 and are the basis for all the PM-10 plans submitted by the state of Arizona since that time.

“We cannot change the boundaries as you have requested,” wrote McKaughan, who said the actual boundaries of the non-attainment area are determined by the state “based not just on where monitors are located but where emission sources are located, where people live and work, meteorology, and the topography and geography of the metropolitan area.”

She said the Clean Air Act requires the state of Arizona to develop and submit a plan that will lead to attainment of PM-10 NAAQS for the non-attainment area and “EPA determines whether the plan is approvable.”

According to McKaughan, “[I]t is not possible for an air pollution agency to monitor PM-10 in every possible location,” and therefore the Maricopa County Department of Air Quality operates a strategically placed network of PM-10 monitoring sites throughout the non-attainment area in order to provide a representative picture of the PM-10 levels in the area.

McKaughan wrote, “We have determined the monitoring network in Maricopa County is appropriate for assessing air quality in the PM-10 non-attainment area, including Cave Creek.”

In conclusion she said, “While we appreciate that the more stringent requirements in the plan impose a financial hardship on your citizenry, this burden is borne throughout the non-attainment area by many business and community sectors,” and urged the town to continue working with state and local agencies to ensure the requirements are met in the most cost-effective way possible, so the area makes progress toward meeting the PM-10 standard.

Sorchych did not have time to research his options before press time.