Critical bill for Pinal agriculture passes House

Eric Massey, ADEQBy Phil Riske | Managing Editor

(STATE CAPITOL) — An air quality bill affecting the near $1 billion agriculture industry in Pinal County is headed for the state Senate after clearing the House Thursday with no debate on a vote of 58-0.

After years of what was described as “ticky-tacky” complaints from the Environmental Protection Agency about the county’s draft agricultural management practices to bring the industry into compliance with air quality standards, Pinal’s plan is expected to be approved, a state official said.

The bill passed by the House (HB2394) would remove an 18-month delay for compliance with the agricultural general permit and requires immediate compliance with the permit beginning January 1, 2016.

Erik Massey, director of the Air Quality division of the state Department of Environmental Protection, told the House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Feb 2 the federal EPA and his state agency have been working cooperatively.

“We have high expectations for approval,” Massey said.

A spokesman for 175 commercial farmers told the committee “We have reached the end of our patience.”

Pinal County is required to meet air quality standards in four categories, plus levels for P10 dust particulates. Beef feedlots have struggled to meet dust attainment levels as cattle drag their hind hooves, kicking up dust.

It was not clear what the cost of the regulations would cost farmers. Bas Aja, representing Arizona Cattlemen, estimated the rules could cost beef growers $1.2 million.

The EPA in 2000 told Pinal County it was 13 percent of the air pollution problems, the “worst” in the state.

Bill supporters told the committee the pressure is on the EPA now to work out an agreement with Pinal County because the federal agency would not achieve its goal if it continued to pick apart the county’s plan.

The bill is sponsored in part by Pinal legislators Frank Pratt, Tom Shope and Vince Leach.

Related: Pinal groundwater plan delayed for months

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