Maricopa County Considers Adopting California-Type Measures To Cut Emissions

Maricopa County Considers Adopting California-Type Measures To Cut Emissions

By Daniel Stefanski |

As many California residents head east to Arizona in response to policies they find objectionable, Maricopa County appears to be taking a leap toward adopting some of those same policies.

The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) recently contracted with a California-based consulting firm to “identify and evaluate new and available ozone precursor control measures that could be implemented within the nonattainment area” – which is an “eight-hour ozone boundary for the 2015 ozone standard (2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standard). According to the Final Report from the consulting firm, the area runs north to south from the Yavapai County line to Hunt Highway; and west to east from 499th Avenue to the Gila and Pinal County lines.

One of the geneses of this report stems from a little-discussed published rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in fall 2022, which moved “the region up the severity ladder for ozone pollution, reclassifying the region from ‘marginal’ to ‘moderate’ nonattainment for the ozone pollution standard.

In a press release dated September 2022, MAG revealed that “in 2015, the EPA tightened the ozone pollution standard from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion,” and that the region encompassing “Maricopa County and portions of Pinal County missed that deadline.”

MAG wrote in the September release, that “the moderate nonattainment area classification requires new actions and measures, including:

  • New control measures to reduce the types of emissions that create ozone.
  • Emission offset requirement for new, large facilities locating in the nonattainment area and major expansions to large, existing facilities, which are required to offset every ton of emissions by 1.15 tons.
  • Contingency measures (i.e., measures to be deployed if the nonattainment area does not meet yearly emission reduction milestones).
  • Potential emission controls for intrastate facilities or other emission sources located outside the Phoenix-Mesa nonattainment area.”

Enter the consultant’s Final Report this spring, which suggested “approximately 50% reduction in nonattainment area anthropogenic NOx and VOC emissions” in order to bring the region into compliance with the EPA’s standard by an August 3, 2024, deadline. An Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Division Director recently admitted that “Maricopa County businesses and residents have done a fantastic job of reducing ozone pollution by 12.5 percent since 2000.” But Maricopa County would have to exponentially and substantially pick up the pace of slashing emissions in just over one year – compared to the two-plus decades of work to cut pollution by 12.5 percent. And that is likely impossible.

But MAG is still planning to move forward with this plan, and to meet this deadline, it included suggested measures to reduce ozone in the Maricopa Nonattainment Area to meet Clean Air Act requirements related to the 2015 ozone standard. Some of the suggested measures include adopting standards similar to California like banning the internal combustion engine, banning gas appliances, and a host of regulations on various business activities.

There is a tight turnaround for approval of these drastic measures to cut emissions in Maricopa County. Before the end of April, the “MAG Regional Council may approve the Draft Suggested List of Measures” after receiving recommendations from the MAG Management Committee. Then, over this summer, “implementing entities provide commitments to implement measures, or reasoned justification for non-implementation, to MAG for inclusion in a nonattainment area state implementation plan submission to EPA.”

The EPA guidance instructs that “states should consider all available measures, including those being implemented in other areas, but must adopt measures for an area only if those measures are economically and technologically feasible and will advance the attainment date or are necessary for reasonable further progress.” According to the March 6 Draft Suggested List of Measures to Reduce Ozone in the Maricopa Nonattainment Area, “if an entity decides that a measure on the Suggested List is not available or feasible for implementation, the entity will provide a justification for why the measure is not available or feasible.”

Cities, towns, and Maricopa County may soon be forced to decide between complying with extremely onerous measures to bring down a tremendous amount of emissions in a hurry or losing out on a generous offering of federal dollars (along with financial penalties that could be levied against those jurisdictions), setting up a potential battle over federalism that will determine Maricopa County’s (and eventually Arizona’s) commitment to its libertarian and freedom-minded roots or deviation to California’s environmentalism policies and politics.