A legislative panel is recommending new legal restrictions on the authority of the state Department of Environmental Quality and, by extension, the governor.
Members of a special panel reviewing the agency voted Thursday to tell their colleagues to consider limiting the ability of the agency to adopt or enforce new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. That would include not only derailing a proposed "cap-and-trade" system on industrial users but overturning already enacted rules setting new carbon dioxide emission standards for cars and trucks sold in Arizona.
And to ensure the agency is paying attention to lawmakers, the committee said the laws keeping DEQ in existence should be extended until only 2011. That means the agency will come back for future scrutiny in just two years.
DEQ Director Steve Owens said lawmakers are wrong to lash out at him and his agency for pursuing new greenhouse gas regulations. He said he is just following orders from his boss, Gov. Janet Napolitano.
"We do what we do at DEQ on climate change in response to the directive the governor has given us," he said.
Gubernatorial press aide Jeanine L'Ecuyer said Napolitano had not seen the recommendations and has no comment at this time.
The two-day hearing was punctuated with repeated questions of Owens and how he is running the agency.
Some lawmakers believe DEQ has been setting policy rather than simply implementing the policies set by the Legislature. And Exhibit 1 has been the issue of state regulations designed to address global warming.
DEQ proposed and pushed through new rules earlier this year that require each automobile manufacturer to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from its total sales in the state by 37 percent by 2016.
It does not ban the sale of any particular type of vehicle now sold in Arizona. Instead, it sets standards for how much more each manufacturer's "fleet" of vehicles sold in the state must reduce carbon dioxide from current levels.
It also contains a mandate that, beginning in 2012, 10 percent of all vehicles sold in Arizona have no emissions at all, whether powered by electricity, hydrogen or some other source. That increases to 16 percent by 2022.
Lawmakers responded to the proposal by approving legislation stripping DEQ of any authority to enact greenhouse gas rules. But Napolitano vetoed that bill.
Now the state is weighing a much broader proposal that would impose carbon dioxide limits on commercial and industrial sources, the biggest of which in Arizona are the coal- and gas-fired power plants that generate electricity. And Owens has refused to rule out imposing those regulations without first getting legislative permission.
That angered Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa. "As legislators, we've tended to avoid taxing," he said. He called a cap-and-trade system "just a way to apply a tax in a roundabout way."