Companies can shield environmental reports under new Ariz. law

Saturday, April 14, 2012

PHOENIX — Mines and other businesses in Arizona will be able to keep their studies of environmental conditions and pollution problems behind closed doors.

Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation April 12 protecting companies’ internal environmental audits from being used as evidence in civil or pretrial cases.

Businesses would still be subject to sanctions for violations reported by regulators, and the new legal privilege would not apply in criminal cases.

Supporters say this privilege would encourage recent buyers of property and others to look into potential pollution problems.

Opponents of the bill say it would make it easier for companies to hide pollution or environmental issues and provide little benefit to the environment.

More than a dozen other states have similar laws.

Supporters of the bill included the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Arizona Rock Products Association, Arizona Public Service Co., the Arizona Mining Association and the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.

The Sierra Club opposed the bill, and lobbyist Sandy Bahr said it would make it harder for the public to monitor the performance of regulators who have to keep confidential information in environmental audits.

That’s a concern, Bahr said, “because a lot of the time it’s really the agencies that we have to push to follow their own laws.”

Bahr added later: “The bottom line on some of this is you might not know for years what’s in this audit.”