Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sen. Flake organizes Arizona-only listening session with EPA, stakeholders

Even an oncoming haboob couldn’t stop this guy- from his time in the House through today, U.S. Senator Jeff Flake has always insisted that the federal government listen to Arizona on the critical issues that affect our state.

He proved this once again today by organizing an Arizona-only listening session with the Environmental Protection Agency and Arizona stakeholders to discuss the forthcoming content of the EPA’s draft rule on the process by which so-called “exceptional events” related to air quality standards are submitted to the EPA for review. Sen. Flake hosted a stakeholder meeting back in September at the Arizona Chamber to discuss this same issue, and this was a chance for stakeholders to voice their concerns directly to EPA staff.

The Arizona business community has concerns about the economic impact of this exceptional events rule, especially the non-attainment issue and the cost to the state.

As we all know, Arizona has a unique desert environment where dust storms or “haboobs” frequently roll through during our summer months. These exceptional events occur regularly in Arizona, and contribute to artificially high air quality readings that have the potential to place counties in non-attainment. A non-attainment designation could have lasting economic consequences on cities, towns and businesses in Arizona. Federal transportation projects are put on strict budgets and often ruled out in non-attainment areas.

The possibility of being placed in non-attainment also presents a lot of uncertainty for businesses in the area. Businesses operating in non-attainment areas already face some of the most stringent regulations in the nation for dust and PM10. Without exceptional event findings, these businesses will be subject to draconian-like regulations. We simply cannot afford tighter restrictions on business. The timeframes for air quality permits also increase when an area has been placed in non-attainment. As Arizona is still climbing out of the recession, we have to be able to get businesses off the ground and running.

Some of these storms in recent years have made international news. These events are no doubt exceptional, but the state is still tasked with proving to the EPA that they contributed to our higher-than-normal air quality readings. These demonstrations are a cost that the agency has to absorb. The Department of Environmental Quality and Maricopa County Air Quality Division have done an excellent job of streamlining this process. And although this partnership has resulted in considerable enhancements, the investment required to handle this documentation process remains unsustainable.

To address these issues, Sen. Flake has recommended that the EPA adopt an exceptional events rule that:

  • Specifies regionally tailored criteria for evidence, analyses, and documentation applicable to EPA’s approval or disapproval of an exceptional event demonstration;
  • Creates a strict timeline by which EPA must review and rule on every exceptional event demonstration submission;
  • Ensures that EPA’s approval of an exceptional event demonstration be based upon a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, if the state supplies sufficient evidence to prove an exceptional event was more likely than not responsible for an exceedance, EPA ought to approve the demonstration;
  • And, allows for states to appeal any EPA decision to disapprove an exceptional event demonstration.

We want to thank Sen. Flake for organizing this opportunity for Arizona business and agricultural stakeholders to voice their comments and concerns and ask questions about the draft rule.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Arizona Shows D.C. How it's Done: A tale of two rollouts

On October 1, two healthcare programs opened for enrollment in Arizona. The first was the federal health insurance marketplace; the second was the recently restored state Medicaid program, Arizona’s Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).

Since its creation in 1982, AHCCCS has been the gold-standard for cost-effective managed care in the country. AHCCCS is currently the 9th lowest-cost Medicaid program in the country, boasting costs of about$700 less per enrollee than the national average. The managed care model AHCCCS employs is based on competition, patient choice and appropriate medical management. The program has extremely low processing and eligibility error rates (1.1%compared to a national average of 6.7%) and has been recognized as utilizing “best practices” in cost avoidance and payment recovery activities.

AHCCCS has continuedthis reputation for quality service throughout the enrollment period following Gov. Brewer and the state Legislature’s expansion of eligibility and restoration of coverage for childless adults. Since the new eligibility requirements kicked in on October 1, AHCCCS, under the direction of Tom Betlach, has successfully enrolled thousands of Arizona’s uninsured, working poor. No serious glitches, no excuses, just real coverage in real time.

Contrast this with the rollout of the federal health insurance marketplace. Plagued by fundamental flaws in the website’s infrastructure, the online marketplace has thus far failed to provide the easy-access, affordable coverage the Administration promised. Serious concerns about the privacy of the data that consumers provide to the insurance exchange have further slowed its efficacy.

While the development of the federal health insurance marketplace is far more complex than the enrollment of Arizona’s restored AHCCCS population, the tale of these two health insurance rollouts is significant. Arizonans are fortunate to have a Medicaid program run on the principles of patient choice and efficiency, and the relative effectiveness of these programs over the last month only further highlights the stellar job that the AHCCCS team has done navigating the difficult issue of providing access to healthcare for our state’s working poor. 

Making Arizona a more veteran-friendly place to call home

Today, as we honor our veterans who have given their service to this country, I thought it would be appropriate to briefly mention the important steps that Arizona has taken toward making Arizona a more veteran-friendly place to call home. We know that as increased numbers of veterans are returning back to the civilian life, we need to help them get jobs as quickly as possible and we want to make sure that Arizona is making the transition as smooth as possible. Under the leadership of Representative (and Marine) Sonny Borelli, the Arizona legislature enacted HB2076 earlier this year to ease service members’ return to the civilian workforce in Arizona.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry recognizes that Service members gain valuable skills in their service to this country, skills when transferred to the civilian workforce, benefit both these heroes and the communities they choose to call home. Thanks to Representative Borelli’s vision and his experience as a veteran, legislation enacted this year to smooth the transition of service members back to civilian life and the civilian workforce is a reality. The medics and corpsmen who gain valuable healthcare experience in the service will now have a new opportunity thanks to representatives of the services, leaders in the business community and education community and the Arizona Board of Nursing, who worked together to produce great results: a curriculum to ease the entry of these former members of the armed services into a career in nursing.

The Nursing Board, together with the education community and representatives of the services developed a curriculum to make it possible for service members to bridge the gap to enter a nursing practice. At the September 27, 2013 meeting of the Board of Nursing, the agency voted to approve the curriculum developed from Rep. Borelli’s vision. The Board will be making this curriculum available to education institutions throughout the state and anywhere else where this effort may be put to use. We applaud the hard work of this agency to quickly act on implementing such a critical piece of legislation.

Efforts such as this show the important results that can be achieved when we put our hearts and minds in the effort to implement the visions of our leaders. Together, with great contributions from educators in this state and the services and the State Board of Nursing, this effort stands as a bright example of hard work by a state agency committed to exemplary service through its diligent performance of the work it is called upon to perform. We look forward to working with other agencies to continue building on the exemplary work of the Arizona Board of Nursing.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Exceptional Events: the Return of the Air Quality Conference

After a three year hiatus, the Air Quality Conference made a triumphant return yesterday, with over 175 attendees turning out to hear presentations on topics from the EPA’s Exceptional Events rule to streamlining permitting procedures.

A full room for yesterday's Air Quality Conference

We’re grateful to presenting sponsor Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite, who kicked off the event with a presentation from attorney Bert Acken along with Polsinelli attorney Maribeth Klein. Their presentation gave a brief overview of the air quality issues in Maricopa County.

Eddie Al-Rayes from Trinity Consultants then gave the group a run-down of start-up shut-down malfunction.

Colleen McKaughan from the EPA Region 9 finished up the morning programming with an update from the EPA and the forecast for the coming year.

Over lunch, Director Bill Wiley from the Maricopa County Air Quality Department gave the day’s keynote address. He talked about some of the department’s initiatives including the No Burn Day Campaign and the Clean Air App. He also gave a brief history and status update on the Maricopa County 5% Plan.

After lunch, Eric Massey from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality gave an update of the state’s leading air quality issues including exceptional events and ozone. The afternoon followed by an update from Clint Chandler of U.S. Senator Jeff Flake’s office who discussed the work Senator Flake has done to streamline the Exceptional Events Rule and the CLEER Acts.

The all-star afternoon panel

Finally, the afternoon boasted an all-star panel of regulators and regulateds, which included:

·         Bill Wiley (MCAQD)
·         Eric Massey (ADEQ)
·         Phil McNeely (City of Phoenix)
·         Steve Trussell (ARPA)
·         Ann Becker (APS)
·         Christian Stumpf (Lung Assoc.)
·         Jeff Gursh (AZ OHV Coalition)

The panel was moderated by Polsinelli’s Amanda Reeve and addressed ways in which government agencies are working with the private sector on air quality issues.

The conference’s emcee Ken Hooker from the Maricopa County Air Quality Department then wrapped up the day.

All told, it was an extraordinarily successful return for the Air Quality Conference, and we look forward to many more discussions about the regulation of air quality in our state and the impact on Arizona businesses.

For more details about the event, check out the event’s Twitter hashtag- #AQConference

Friday, November 1, 2013

Arizona mining boosts local industries and national economy

By special guest contributor Hal Quinn

Last week, I met with a group of Arizona business leaders, government officials, academics and association heads including Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and author of this blog. What transpired was a robust discussion on the importance of Arizona’s minerals mining industry to the state’s economy, our nation’s global competitiveness and U.S. manufacturers’ supply chains.

Arizona’s mining sector should be a point of pride for the state, supporting more than 52,000 jobs in 2012 alone.

Left to Right: Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association;
Kelly Norton, president of the Arizona Mining Association;
Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry 

In 2012, Arizona minerals mining generated $4.8 billion in total income for workers, business owners, property owners and governments, while supplying nearly two-thirds of United States’ copper needs (65 percent of total U.S. output in 2012).

That copper is fundamental to the production of advanced energy technologies, electrical circuitry and automobiles to name a few applications. In fact, more than one ton of copper is used in a single wind turbine, 64 pounds are needed for each Toyota Prius on the road and 16 grams can be found in each of the world’s six billion cellphones.

Unfortunately, Arizona —and our nation’s — minerals mining industry is being held back from performing to its full potential due to a duplicative and outdated federal permitting process for new mine projects.

While Arizona has historically been one of the largest producers of metals and minerals in the U.S., copper production in 2012 was just 61 percent of its level in 1997. Meanwhile, copper output surges in Asia and Latin America, reducing the United States’ share of global production.

Permitting delays are keeping new mining projects in Arizona and across the country offline and much-needed investment at arm’s length. These delays have landed the United States at the bottom of the list in an annual survey reviewing the top 25 mining countries for mining investment attractiveness, according to Behre Dolbear, the leading mineral industry advisory firm.

In September, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013” — or H.R. 761 — to provide some stability and transparency to a presently inefficient process and to serve as an impetus for federal agencies involved in permitting  to better coordinate  while maintaining  our nation’s robust environmental standards.

It would be a welcomed step for Sens. McCain and Flake to take up this legislation in the Senate so that Arizona’s mineral wealth can provide even more high-wage jobs across the state, expand the U.S. economy and supply our domestic industries with the minerals and metals they desperately need.

Hal Quinn is president and CEO of the National Mining Association (NMA), which advocates on behalf of America’s mining and minerals resources.