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Pierce still stewing over DEQ settlement

Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce joined a handful of Democratic lawmakers last month to lead an uprising against a Department of Environmental Quality pollution settlement in south Phoenix that sent $1 million to a regional government entity dedicated to combating global warming.
And on Oct. 8, it appeared the dust had settled — or at least most of it. South Phoenix’s District 16 received a promise that $1 million would be used to help the industrial neighborhood track air-pollution levels and treat respiratory ailments among children who live there.
But the money for south Phoenix didn’t come at the expense of the Western Climate Initiative, a project of the leaders of seven Western states and four Canadian provinces to make high carbon emitting businesses buy and sell carbon credits to operate. It came from DEQ’s own Air Quality Funds and was in addition to the $1 million for the WCI.
The settlement fails to answer the essential question, said Pierce, which is whether DEQ is legally authorized to assess fines involving supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) that divert money or services away from the locations of environmental violations.
Pierce, a former legislator, has his own idea, and he thinks an answer to the question could be achieved by going to court.
“I think it’s wrong, and I don’t think there is any authority to move money like that out-of-state,” said Pierce. “I don’t believe we have statutory authority to do supplemental environmental projects. I believe someone can challenge that.”
DEQ has stood firmly behind its decision to provide money to the WCA that it received in its settlement with Honeywell Corporation. The business earlier this year agreed to pay $6 million, including the $1 million directed to the WCI, in fines for discharging solvents and jet fuel into the soil and water system.
DEQ Director Steve Owens beat back Pierce’s assertions in a Sept. 4 letter, indicating the department’s internal rules make it clear “that a project required by a SEP must not otherwise be required by any federal, state or local law or regulation.”
Owens further cited that Pierce’s objections to directing funds to the Western Climate Initiative stemmed from the commissioner’s “personal belief” that climate change is not real.
Pierce said the settlement and his beliefs about global warming are entirely separate questions, but he does have a “real problem” with the Western Climate Initiative’s cap-and-trade goal because he believes it will have “drastic effects” on citizens’ economic wellbeing because of the state’s heavy use of coal to generate electricity.
He said he is not sold on the argument that human activity is causing global warming. He said “money has corrupted” researchers and that global warming alarmists have offered the “world is not safe” claims for two decades.
“To the extent that they want to affect peoples’ livelihood and their ability to survive on fixed incomes (with cap-and-trade), it’s scary how far to the extremes these folks want to go when they haven’t achieved the factual basis for the need of a program like this,” Pierce said.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Terry Goddard said no legal opinion over the settlement has been sought and said the office could not comment on any legal advice given to the Department of Environmental Quality.
Pierce, along with Democrats Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor and Reps. Cloves Campbell Jr., and Ben Miranda, cobbled together bishops, pastors, school superintendents, community activists and members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to oppose the settlement.
Landrum Taylor, said she is satisfied that money was provided to offer health care in the district, adding that she’s less concerned about the extent of the agency’s authority.
“My district has been suffering for way too many years from these environmental catastrophes — not just Honeywell, but others,” she said. “At this point, I’m glad that ADEQ is willing to move forward. With all past administrations we weren’t able to do anything like this.
“We’re at the top of the nation for children with asthma,” Landrum Taylor said.
Owens did not return phone calls from the Capitol Times seeking comment.

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