Money for Nothing

There's plenty of money in the Department of Environmental Quality budget. But crazy personnel rules keep the agency understaffed and ineffective.

Finally, Fox had a program all the interests said they could live with. But, says Baron, Fox's program was "shot down by industry in the Governor's Regulatory Review Council," which examines proposed changes in state rules.

The lack of conservative support seems almost ungrateful; Fox did steer DEQ toward the style of environmental regulation Republican revolutionaries say they favor.

DEQ reports now are peppered with business-friendly buzz words like "customer service" and "cost-benefit analysis."

Probably the most striking change at DEQ, and one that engenders the suspicion of environmentalists, involves what is called "stakeholder participation."

This year, "stakeholders" in Arizona's environment--industry lobbyists, environmental activists, business people and academics--hammered out standards that DEQ must follow when it cleans up contaminated soil. The stakeholder group measured the costs of cleanup, compared them to health risks, and came out with a cleanup standard. The standard is less strict than environmentalists wanted, but it will be cheaper for business to meet than the previous standard.

Another stakeholder group is expected to tackle groundwater cleanup.
And DEQ wants to extend this stakeholder concept, creating local groups that will determine water-quality policy for their own areas.

It's too early to tell how many of the programs aimed at fostering cooperation between DEQ and the business community will work. For example, a DEQ section that helps industries get through regulatory procedures opened just last year.

But the new buzz words can't give DEQ the staff necessary to enforce basic environmental laws.

And environmentalists wonder whether some reforms--like the stakeholder rule-making process--are not just subtle methods of giving industry, and its sophisticated lobbyists, another way to weaken environmental regulations.

"I get tired of people saying all of this is a public process and that's the safeguard, as though that excuses DEQ from being an advocate for the environment," Baron says. "DEQ is supposed to be protecting the environment, not playing a zero-sum game with industry."--Terry Greene

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