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Repeal of ‘Clean Cars’ program nears finish line

Despite steep opposition from environmentalists and consumer advocates, the Brewer administration is pushing ahead with the adoption of a less stringent standard for curbing car emissions.

The Department of Environmental Quality last week submitted its final proposal to the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council to repeal Arizona’s Clean Cars program, which follows the tougher California model in curbing car emissions.

In its place, the department will adopt federal standards, which the agency insists are substantially similar to California’s.

ADEQ officials have said revised federal standards are nearly as stringent as those in the CleanCars program and would be less costly to enforce.

The review council is the last stop in the program’s repeal.

The council could act on the proposed repeal as early as January after a public comment period.

The move has put the Brewer administration and environmentalists and consumer advocates on a collision course.

It also came after a public hearing where the testimony was overwhelmingly in support of theClean Cars program.

The air quality department said it weighed the comments carefully.

“But we didn’t find anything in the comments that convinced us that the decision we had proposed was not the right decision,” said Mark Shaffer, a department spokesman.

“The new law made the will of the state Legislature clear: nothing more stringent than federal law unless they give us specific authority. And the Legislature represents the will of the people of the state of Arizona.”

Thus, ADEQ is repealing the program as a response to a state law. It also argued that implementing the current car emissions standard ultimately means higher infrastructure costs for the state.

Supporters are expected to redouble their campaign to halt the program’s repeal. The odds, however, are clearly arrayed against them.

Those who oppose it say the step is “irresponsible.”

They said any savings from the repeal would be negated by increased health care costs, arguing that in a state that’s struggling with air quality issues even small improvements mean a lot for those who suffer from respiratory diseases like asthma.

“Increased air pollution could result in more emergency room visits, hospital admissions and in some cases, the incidence of premature death for people who suffer from lung disease,” Stacey Mortenson, executive director of the American Lung Association of Arizona, said in a news release.

In its recent air quality report, the association had given four counties in the state, including Maricopa, a grade of “F” for pollution.

The association is part of a coalition that is pushing to save the Clean Cars program. Others include the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Arizona Public Interest Research Group.

But the department defended its action by saying it is conforming with a state law that mandates that pollution rules be no more stringent when compared to federal standards.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, states have the choice of adopting either the California model or the federal standard.

ADEQ said maintaining the California model won’t provide “substantial air quality” benefits above what the federal standard would.

The department also said Arizona doesn’t have the infrastructure to manage the zero emissions vehicles component of the California model.

Even so, adopting the federal standard would still promote the use of hybrid and low-emissionscars, the department said.

The California model has several components. It requires car manufacturers to sell a certain number of vehicles that do not emit greenhouse gases or conventional air pollutants and to reduce their fleet-wide vehicle emission levels each year.

These vehicles inevitably mean more cost to manufacturers, and they’re also more expensive than conventional cars, but supporters of the program point to their long-term benefits, such as fuel cost-savings to consumers and cleaner air.

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