Brushing aside concerns of endangering species, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that Arizona is entitled to keep issuing water discharge permits in the state.
In a big victory for homebuilders, the high court found noting irregular or illegal in the 2002 decision of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to delegate that authority to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
The majority rejected arguments by Defenders of Wildlife that delegation failed to consider the impact it would have on endangered and threatened species.
DEQ director Steve Owens acknowledged that state laws and regulations he follows when deciding whether to issue permits are not as comprehensive as those governing the EPA. Specifically, his agency is not covered by the federal Endangered Species Act or required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider the impact permits will have on plants and animals.
In fact, Arizona law — unlike states such as California — actually limits what his agency can consider.
But Owens said he still believes DEQ is protecting the environment.
“We are required to ensure that we give due consideration to impacts on endangered species,” Owens said.
Nor does Owens believe that he needs more authority from the Legislature to protect plants and animals.
“I think the current statutes are adequate,” he said. Monday’s ruling overturns a 2005 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The National Association of Home Builders took the case to the Supreme Court, fearing that decision could bring a halt to many projects already under way.
Michael Senatore, an attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, said Monday’s ruling is a setback for environmental protection because the state procedures are not as comprehensive as those required under the EPA.