The Brewer administration has taken the first steps to scrap rules adopted by the prior governor to force Arizonans to purchase lower-polluting and more fuel-efficient vehicles.
In a formal request late last week, the Department of Environmental Quality proposed repealing the rules the agency adopted three years ago to impose "greenhouse gas" emission standards and new cars and trucks sold in Arizona beginning next year.
Agency Director Henry Darwin said he has no choice, citing a measure approved by lawmakers last year forbidding the state from regulating greenhouse gas emissions that are more stringent than federal laws unless they are specifically approved by the Legislature.
Part of the debate over that law was whether greenhouse gases -- notably carbon dioxide -- are a pollutant and whether their emissions result in climate change. Both sides of that issue claim scientific evidence to support their theories.
But DEQ -- and Gov. Jan Brewer for that matter -- sidestepped that question entirely.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said it appears that the California air quality standards -- the ones that Arizona mimicked -- are now no more stringent than the latest federal greenhouse gas regulations. He said that makes it unnecessary for the state to run its own program.
The decision to rescind the rules brought a sharp retort from Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr.
She said DEQ's own study showed that Arizona's rules would be stricter than federal rules on other pollutants from vehicle emissions that can have health effects. That includes volatile organic compounds and nitrogen compounds, both of which react with sunlight to form ozone.
Now, she said, those benefits are gone.
But Trevor Baggiore, the DEQ director in charge of air quality, said the difference "is just 2 to 3 percent."
Potentially more worrisome, Bahr said, is that the Obama administration has shown it is willing to delay implementation of environmental standards, having done so already for coal-fired power plants. If there is no separate Arizona regulation, she said, any decisions in Washington will mean delays in cleaner air in Arizona.
Brewer's move is no surprise. She had previously told DEQ to review the rules, questioning the conclusion by the administration of Gov. Janet Napolitano that there would be just a minimal increase on the price of cars and trucks.
The rules do not ban the sale of specific vehicles but instead require each manufacturer to reduce total greenhouse-gas emissions of all the cars and trucks sold in Arizona.
The eventual goal is 37 percent by 2016. Some vehicles still could pollute more as long as sufficient numbers of cars and trucks that exceed the reduction also are sold.
In ordering the review of the rules last year, the governor said she questions many of the assumptions about the assertion human activities are causing massive changes in the environment.
"At this point in time I'm sure there is some cause," Brewer said at the time. "I don't believe it is to the extreme of what some people would like us to believe."
On Monday, though, Benson said that Brewer sees the issue as one of economics and not related to the debate over climate change.
"The decision that she's made is that the economic costs of being part of the (multi-state) Clean Cars Program outweigh the environmental benefits," he said.
During hearings in 2008, economists hired by vehicle manufacturers argued that the rules would add at least $6,000 to the cost of new cars and light trucks, while net savings from things like increased fuel efficiency was estimated at less than $1,000.
But state DEQ representatives disputed those claims, citing figures from the California Air Resources Board that put the added cost of reducing tailpipe emissions at less than $1,100, with savings from lower gasoline use and maintenance over the life of the vehicle approaching $3,000.
Baggiore said there were other economic reasons to jettison the rules.
"If we decide to have our own standards, then we are in charge of enforcing those standards,'' he said.
Baggiore said while Arizona does have a system in place to measure tailpipe emissions from individual cars and trucks, it does not have the staff to monitor the designs of cars and trucks made by vehicle manufacturers, which is what would be required. Staying under federal standards, he said, leaves that responsibility -- and cost -- with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.