Valley residents could soon lose the right to use leaf blowers to clean up their lawns and driveways — at least on some winter days.
Legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Rural Affairs would prohibit the use of these devices on days when the state Department of Environmental Quality forecasts high pollution.
Sen. Carolyn Allen, RScottsdale, said leaf blowers contribute to the “brown cloud” that often envelops the Valley.
And that’s just the beginning. A handful of proposed restrictions aimed at improving air quality could mean more Pinal County residents will have to get their vehicles tested for emissions standards.
Gov. Janet Napolitano said at a news conference Wednesday that she sees SB1552 as a starting point for a much more comprehensive plan to clean up the Valley’s dirty air.
“What it’s about is the quality of life in our state,” she said. “If we don’t take care of these environmental issues concurrently, we’re going to lose this quality of life we enjoy.”
DEQ deputy director Patrick Cunningham told lawmakers that more than aesthetics is involved.
He said the Valley has recorded multiple violations of federal air-quality standards, notably for particulates.
He said the state needs to come up with a plan for a 5 percent reduction in pollution every year — about 4,000 tons of particulates — until there are no longer any violations.
Failure to comply would mean losing federal highway funding that lawmakers count on to build more miles of freeway.
One of the biggest effects of legislative action could be forcing thousands more Arizonans to have their vehicles inspected to ensure they are not emitting excess pollution.
Current law confines that testing largely to residents of Maricopa County and a small portion of Pinal County around Apache Junction.
As originally crafted, SB1552 would expand the emissions-test area by more than 1,500 square miles, taking in not only all of the new subdivisions south and east of Queen Creek but virtually all of the rest of Pinal County through Florence, Coolidge and Casa Grande.
Even though Allen agreed to remove that portion of the bill in order to move the measure out of committee, she intends to push for a final version of the legislation that requires vehicle emissions testing in rural areas.
“They are still coming into our community,” she said.
Some groups that would be affected by the proposal already have started to grumble.
Rusty Bowers, executive director of the Arizona Rock Products Association, said conditions in the desert will make it difficult to ever bring the area into compliance with air-quality regulations.
Steve Owens, DEQ director, said one big problem is going to be getting everyone to participate.
For instance, homebuilders want new regulations on agriculture, while farmers say the problem comes from unpaved roads.
“There are an awful lot of ideas, most of which involve somebody else,” he said.
Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, refused to support the legislation as a protest against “the feds blackmailing the states” by threatening to withhold transportation dollars for failing to comply with federal air-quality rules.