Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 18, 2018

Contacts:  Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club, (602) 999-5790,
Randy Serraglio, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 784-1504,
Roger Featherstone, Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, (520) 548-9302,
Peter Else, Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance, (520) 487-1903,

Conservation Groups Assail Arizona's Attempted Takeover of Clean Water Act

State Wants Authority Over Key Provision of Federal Law

PHOENIX— Conservation groups are challenging Arizona’s attempt to assume authority over a key provision of the federal Clean Water Act. In a letter sent Friday to state policymakers, the groups raise concerns about the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) process and question the state’s ability to effectively enforce this important law, which protects U.S. waterways from pollution, degradation and disturbance by industrial and development projects.

The letter questions whether the state can afford to administer the law’s Section 404 program and has the expertise to conduct the detailed scientific analysis to implement it successfully. It also cites many problems with the ADEQ process, including a lack of public notice and the development of implementation plans before assessing costs and feasibility.

“Arizona’s waters are just too important to risk to a system that lacks appropriate public input and does not provide for strong protections for wildlife and cultural resources,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club's Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “Before Arizona should even consider taking on more programs, it should adopt a strong public review and involvement process, as well as ensure that it will not shortcut cultural and natural resource protections.”

“Our state has a horrendous track record of protecting its precious springs and streams, from the Rosemont Valley to the San Pedro and Verde rivers to the Grand Canyon,” said Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Turning over this critically important federal law to toothless state agencies only makes sense if you want to evade environmental protections and facilitate industry profits.”

“The public has a right to know why ADEQ is making this move now when they have difficulty protecting communities and the environment with their current workload and inadequate funding,” said Roger Featherstone, director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition. “We’ve seen how huge foreign mining companies are able to manipulate ADEQ to get away with pollution. ADEQ’s badly flawed process thus far indicates that their assumption of this authority would bring more of the same.”

“ADEQ’s aggressive and unrealistic push to take over enforcement of this aspect of the Clean Water Act without first conducting a feasibility analysis strongly indicates environmental policy based on opportunistic politics, not on protecting our waterways," said Peter Else of Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance. “Our endangered desert rivers need all the help they can get, not the short end of the stick. State takeover of this important Clean Water Act program would be a disaster in the making.”

For decades, the Clean Water Act has protected and improved the health of U.S. waters, turning rivers that once caught fire and were major threats to public health into vibrant, functioning waterways. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act is currently administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which conducts detailed and complex analyses of proposals that might harm U.S. waters.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill this year giving ADEQ the option of attempting to assume control of Section 404 implementation, but the agency has taken this as a green light to pursue it without any robust analysis or public involvement. Other states that have attempted to assume this authority have found that the costs and complexity have made it impossible, and the vast majority of states that expressed interest have not followed through.

It will be up to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency whether to delegate this authority to Arizona. ADEQ officials are rushing to complete a plan and present it to the Trump administration, which has encouraged states to pursue such a takeover.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Founded in 1892, the Sierra Club is a national nonprofit environmental organization with approximately 3 million members and supporters, including in Arizona. Sierra Club’s mission is to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.

The Arizona Mining Reform Coalition is comprised of Arizona groups and individuals that work to ensure that mining is done responsibly to protect communities and the environment in Arizona.

Lower San Pedro Water Alliance is a landowner-based conservation group focused on protecting a threatened desert river ecosystem and the watershed that supports it.

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