Arizona withdraws support for EPA greenhouse gas endangerment findings

The state of Arizona, which had supported the Obama administration’s decision that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health and the environment, has dropped out of the massive court battle over U.S. EPA’s new climate regulations, court records show.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne (R) asked to withdraw the state from the litigation in the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia. The court approved the request this morning.

Arizona had taken the Obama administration’s side during the tenure of former Attorney General Terry Goddard (D), who gave up the position to launch an unsuccessful challenge to Gov. Jan Brewer (R) last year.

The state was among the 20 states to join briefs in support of the “endangerment finding,” which is the linchpin for efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the federal Clean Air Act. In one recent filing, Arizona joined other states and environmental groups in calling the December 2009 document a “compelling agency record demonstrating that adverse climate impacts have already occurred, and are continuing to occur.”

As recently as Jan. 10, Arizona was still signing its name onto briefs in support of EPA’s position in the case, even as some state officials criticized the way the agency had implemented its new rules.

Since then, it appears that Horne has had a change of heart. A spokesman for the new attorney general, who was elected in November and sworn in at the beginning of January, could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Arizona has a smaller carbon footprint than most U.S. states due to its reliance on nuclear energy and has also become a renewable energy hub, in large part because its sunny climate is well-suited for solar energy.

But in addition to pulling its support for federal climate rules, Arizona has also backed out of the Western Climate Initiative, a planned cap-and-trade program made up of Western states (ClimateWire, Feb. 12, 2010).

And while Arizona had agreed with EPA on the threat of climate change, the state raised concerns about the way the agency was implementing its new regulations. Unable to revise its own permitting rules as quickly as EPA demanded, Arizona reluctantly handed part of its air pollution permitting program to federal officials late last year.

For the time being, large facilities that need permits for their greenhouse gas emissions will be getting them from federal officials rather than the state office that handles permits for other types of air pollution.

Notably, the state had been critical of EPA rules limiting greenhouse gases from cars, light trucks or industrial facilities, which took effect on Jan. 2. Ben Grumbles, the former director of Arizona’s Department of Environmental Quality, wrote a letter to EPA last summer saying that he had qualms with the “tailoring” rule, which limited the regulations to the largest pollution sources.

“Arizona is not in a position to expend significant resources chasing rules contrary to the state’s policies on renewable energy and that may not survive legal challenges,” wrote Grumbles, who led EPA’s water office during the George W. Bush administration (Greenwire, Sept. 10, 2010).

Since taking office, Horne has taken several legal jabs at the Obama administration.

Last week, he broke from his predecessor by joining a lawsuit that seeks to block President Obama’s health care reforms from taking effect.

He has also jumped to the defense of Arizona’s controversial illegal immigration law, which was challenged by the Obama administration last year. When Goddard was still in charge, Brewer decided to replace him with private attorneys after he raised concerns about the state law.

The reversal by Arizona follows a trend in which positions on the climate litigation have lined up with states’ partisan leanings.

Arizona, which went to Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008, was one of just five states whose stance on the Obama administration’s climate rules did not line up with how the state voted in the most recent president election, according to a recent Greenwire analysis of the court case.

States have been putting politics above legal strategy by challenging the endangerment finding, said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Snape’s group has supported EPA’s scientific finding, but it has split from other supporters from other environmental groups by claiming EPA had not gone far enough with its curbs on greenhouse gases from industrial facilities.

The litigation over the agency’s authority to address climate change “has less to do with what the law says, in my view, than various states with rabid Republican attorneys general and governors who are making political statements,” Snape said. “That has been the problem all along. There’s been a whole lot of heat and not a lot of light.”


Share this post