Guess Whose Brain Storm:
Law Could Make Nevada
Subject to Tight Controls
Because of Others' Smog

  copyright 1996, Electric Nevada

A lot of Nevadans learned for the first time this week that haze in the Grand Canyon could, under new federal law, eventually mean severe new air-quality restrictions on the entire Silver State, including northern Nevada.
And that's despite the fact that 1) virtually none of the pollution in the Grand Canyon comes from Nevada, and 2) most of the park's haze comes from natural sources -- the largest being light bouncing off air molecules.
So where did such a law come from? Whose idea was this plan, which state environment officials say could have a large and negative effect on the state economy?
It's not being discussed loudly by those same state officials, but the lead author of the key provisions was the most powerful man in Nevada politics -- U.S. Senator Harry Reid.
According to research done by Electric Nevada, Sen. Reid first announced his idea January 29, 1990 on the floor of the U.S. Senate, during the debates on amendments to the federal Clean Air Act.
Citing a poll where 74% of Americans said they agreed that "protecting the environment is so important that requirements and standards cannot be too high, and continuing environmental improvements must be made regardless of the costs," Nevada's powerful senior senator said "there needs to be something in this legislation to address the visibility issue" at the Grand Canyon park.
Reid told the Senate floor he had spoken about his desire to Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), chairman of the Senate committee in charge of Clean Air Act amendments, and that while "I certainly recognize that many people have problems with the legislation, we also have to recognize how the American people feel."
Five weeks later, on March 7, 1990, Reid announced he would offer his own amendments. Two weeks after that, on March 20, Reid appeared on the senate floor, inquiring about an "amendment to be offered by Senator [Brock] Adams [D-WA], and myself..." The next day the amendment was formally offered and passed, as section 169 of the Clean Air Act, authorizing the federal Environmental Protection Agency to establish a Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission.
"Congress hereby declares as a national goal," announced the amendment, "the prevention of any future, and the remedying of existing, impairment of visibility in mandatory class I Federal areas which impairment results from manmade air pollution."
Paragraph A of section 169 explicitly directed the eventual commission to consider "the establishment of clean air corridors, in which additional restrictions on increases in emissions may be appropriate to protect visibility in affected class I areas," a list of 16 federal parks.
Paragraph B of section 169 directed the commission to consider "the imposition of" existing federal "pollution reduction measures" to "the construction of new major stationary sources or major modifications to existing sources in .. clean air corridors..."
Together the two provisions established a process where new federal controls on Nevada businesses -- even under scenarios like now, when local emissions do not violate existing standards -- become possible. That process is the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission, which is charged with making recommendations regarding regulations to the EPA.
As a briefing paper published last year the commission said, "Congress specifically directed the Commission to consider applying Part D requirements [i.e., controls] to areas supplying clear days [to the parks]."
Lew Dodgion, administrator of the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, says some of the recommendations emerging from the Transport Commission's public advisory committee already could have a big negative effect on the Nevada economy, while other recommendations "don't focus on the problem."
"We need to focus on the area where the problem is and that's Arizona, California and Mexico," he said.
But another source inside the state environmental division was even more emphatic.
"It's frightening to see what's gone on here," he said, adding that though the EPA was charged under Senator Reid's original amendment with establishing a visibility transport commission to look at Grand Canyon visibility, the EPA, on its own, expanded the whole area of study -- and thus, of commission recommendations and potential new EPA control -- to the entire Colorado plateau east of Nevada and visibility in 15 other federal parks there.
Thus, with prevailing west-to-east winds, haze in Colorado parks could also provide EPA justification
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for imposing Los Angeles-type pollution controls on Nevada manufacturing, mining, agricultural and construction operations.
He said Senator Reid, along with other senators, had protested the expansion of the jurisdiction of the transport commission. But he noted that the senators had sent their protest, not to the head of the EPA, which in defining the Transport Region decided which states would make up the commission, but to Arizona Governor Fife Symington, eventual chairman of the resulting commission -- and a Republican.
Electric Nevada procured a copy of the letter this week, and discovered it was dated May 4, 1992 -- only four days before the commission's very first draft work plan was scheduled to be considered.
"We are writing to express our concern that this Draft Plan goes far beyond the statutory provisions of Section 169 B, and its adoption would be inconsistent with Congressional intent in establishing the Commission," said the letter.
"At no time was it envisioned that the jurisdiction of your Commission should be expanded beyond the Grand Canyon to include the 'Golden Circle' of Class I areas on the Colorado Plateau."
In actual fact, however, the original federal legislation does specifically say that "A Visibility Transport Commission shall address" protecting visibility in Class I areas.
Electric Nevada contacted Senator Reid's office, seeking his answer to this and other questions, but only received a stock reply, thanking us for our "input."
Also signing the letter to Arizona Governor Symington were Senators Richard Bryan of Nevada, Malcolm Wallop and Alan Simpson of Wyoming, Pete Deomenici of New Mexico, Dennis De Concini of Arizona, and Orrin Hatch and Jake Garn of Utah.
Under the Clean Air Act provisions, the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission is composed of the governors of the states in the transport region (defined by the EPA as Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming), administrators of five Federal agencies (EPA, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management), and administrators of five Indian tribes.
Under the ground rules, the five federal agencies and one of the tribes were only to contribute expertise to the deliberations and were denied voting authority on commission decisions. But all the governors, Federal and tribal administrators on the commission were to each nominate five individuals for the commission's Public Advisory Committee. The resulting committee, of over 100 members, will make its formal recommendation to the commission in May. Deadline for public comment to the committee is April 24.
Electric Nevada's source in the state environmental division says that the Federal appointees to the commission's public advisory committee have formed a "rump group" and have begun campaigning against the consensus air visibility and pollution standards largely settled upon by the committee majority.
"There's a document out, being faxed around, saying we haven't gone far enough, and 'look at all this good we can do', and 'it's a great chance," he said.
While the Federal-government members of the commission are denied any voting authority on the commission's final recommendations, the source said, the Federal commissioners are still trying to influence the transport visibility commission's eventual recommendations. It's being done, he indicated, by the the Federal commissioners's appointees to the advisory committee.
"They're trying to influence the recommendations of the committee, figuring that the commission will probably accept the committee's positions," the source said.


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