Industry Goes to the Well . . . to dilute clean-water regulations

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"It just epitomizes the hypocrisy of these people [legislators]," Baron says. "I mean, they're always harping about states' rights and state control."

Although the bill passed in the end, Bahr must have had some impact--she raised the ire of lobbyists for the sand and gravel companies. After a hearing one day, a man introduced himself to her as Sam Aubrey, a lobbyist for the Arizona Rock Products Association.

Bahr recalls, "He was really pissed off, basically. He was like, 'Why are you opposing our bill? Why didn't you come to us?'"

Her response: "Last I heard, that was Senator Bowers' bill."
"There's no doubt about it, that a lot of the bill-writing comes from lobbyists and particularly the more powerful lobbies," Bahr says. "And then, of course, they have the audacity to complain when we oppose something that nobody ever asked us about, and of course we would oppose because it's less protective of the environment, and that's our job."

Last summer, long before some legislators had begun toiling on reelection campaigns, Super Lobbyist Dave Kimball released his latest laundry list of concerns about the Aquifer Protection Permit Program. His modus operandi: threaten DEQ with legislation unless the agency buckles to his requests and takes care of them through the less public rule-making process.

Rumored Kimball bills for 1999 would delay permitting requirements for sites including old mines and eliminate "narrative standards" from the permitting process. Aubrey and Kimball did not return calls from New Times.

The narrative standard provision of the 1986 water quality law is an important one, says David Baron, because although identifiable chemicals have already been assigned numeric limits that determine their toxicity when dumped into the water, there are many more chemicals that have not been assigned limits. Thus, the law gives DEQ the authority to assess a chemical and assign it a number. Kimball and other industry representatives have charged that DEQ makes unfair assessments. But instead of addressing individual concerns, they want to significantly limit DEQ's ability to set strict limits.

Baron thinks this is a terrible idea. "If somebody comes along with some exotic, highly toxic chemical, the only recourse of DEQ is to spend two or three years in rule-making to come up with a standard that these guys will take to court," he says. "So essentially, they'll never be regulated."

It is impossible to know for sure what environmental bills will pop up in the next session. Guessing what may be drafted and introduced becomes a game for the players, who in this case include environmentalists, business representatives and bureaucrats from DEQ and that agency's legal counsel, the Attorney General's Office.

An October 26 memo from the AG's Office details DEQ's legislative priorities for the upcoming session, and also includes the Arizona Association of Industries' wish list of a dozen or so items. Included on the industry list is the dreaded "environmental audit bill," which allows polluters to self-police while exempting them from prosecution. The bill made then-DEQ director Russell Rhoades scores of enemies when he announced his support of it in 1996. Even then-governor Fife Symington--no poster boy for the green movement--found the bill too onerous, and vetoed it.

Some speculate that Rhoades' support of the audit bill was a nail in his coffin; he resigned recently, after months of speculation that Governor Jane Dee Hull wanted him out. Now everyone--environmentalists, bureaucrats, the regulated community--is waiting to hear whom Hull appoints in his place. That, Bahr says, will be a signal as to whether she's green or not. The environmentalists were horrified when Hull signed the sand and gravel bill last year, and haven't been thrilled, in general, with her record on the environment.

But few think Hull would back the environmental audit bill, which has also been derided as the "Polluter Protection Act."

And even the legislators most willing to do the Super Lobbyists' bidding may balk at the thought of introducing the controversial measure this session. The AG memo offers it up as an industry priority, but with a caveat: "An environmental audit self-evaluation privilege which would be introduced if there are champions in the Legislature to support it."

The Players
And their contributions to statewide and legislative candidates

In favor of changes in groundwater protection laws . . .

Super Lobbyist David Kimball, Gallagher and Kennedy. Kimball gave $1,600. Gallagher and Kennedy gave $7,175. The firm's clients and their contributions: Arizona Chamber of Commerce, employees: $3,837; Arizona Rock Products Association, PAC: $16,325; employees, $925.

Arizona Association of Industries. Its PAC gave $2,310; employees another $1,945.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.