The Division of Environmental Quality traces its roots back to 1949, when the Arkansas General Assembly created the Arkansas Water Pollution Control Commission. As the name implies, water pollution was the only responsibility of the commission in its early years. Originally a branch of the Arkansas Health Department, the commission was composed of seven members: four state agency heads and three private citizens appointed by the governor. A small full-time staff operated out of an office in the Health Department to provide support for the commission.
In 1965, the commission's name was changed to the Arkansas Pollution Control Commission. Authority to deal with air pollution matters was added to its water protection duties, and the commission was removed from the Health Department to become a separate state agency.
A reorganization of state government in 1971 created the Department of Pollution Control and Ecology as a cabinet-level agency headed by a director appointed by the commission and staffed by a number of full-time personnel responsible for administering environmental programs under the commission's jurisdiction. The commission's name was changed to the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology (APC&E) Commission. Authority to regulate solid waste disposal and open-cut mining operations involving sand and gravel also was added to the commission's and the department's duties in 1971.
The Arkansas General Assembly gave the department authority to regulate open-cut coal mining in 1977, hazardous waste disposal in 1979, and underground petroleum storage tanks in 1989.
The General Assembly has changed the commission's makeup several times since its creation in 1949. The last such reorganization occurred in 1991, leading to the APC&E Commission's current composition of the directors (or representatives designated by the directors) of six state agencies: the Forestry Commission, Game and Fish Commission, Geology Commission, Health Department, Natural Resources Commission, and Oil and Gas Commission; and seven private citizens appointed by the governor for staggered four-year terms, with each of the state's four congressional districts having at least one representative and no district having more than two representatives on the commission. Citizen appointees are to have knowledge or expertise in matters within the commission's jurisdiction, including government, business or industry, agriculture and livestock, forestry, health, ecology, recreation and tourism, and geology. Also, a 1991 law provided that the governor, rather than the commission, will appoint the department director.
The APC&E Commission is the environmental policy-making body for the state of Arkansas. Its primary responsibilities are to adopt regulations, based on legislative guidance; to administer the various environmental programs over which it has jurisdiction; to set broad guidelines for the department's operations; and to hear appeals of department decisions involving permit issuance, enforcement actions, and grant awards.
In 1999, the Department of Pollution Control and Ecology changed its name to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) - partly to avoid being confused with the commission, since their names were similar, and partly to reflect the department's changing role and duties, which had evolved over the previous two decades.
The department is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the commission's regulations for a variety of environmental programs. The agency's regulatory divisions (Water, Air, Solid Waste Management, Surface Mining and Reclamation, Hazardous Waste, and Regulated Storage Tanks) monitor ambient environmental conditions, issue permits for various regulated activities, monitor and inspect permitted activities and other activities related to the department's programs, and take enforcement action for violations of state law, regulations, or permit conditions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies have delegated authority to DEQ's regulatory divisions to administer many federal environmental programs within Arkansas.
In addition to six regulatory divisions, DEQ's structure includes the Public Outreach and Assistance Division, which is involved in outreach and pro-active environmental programs; the Technical Services Division, which provides laboratory services to collect and analyze environmental samples; and the Computer Services, Legal, Management Services, and Fiscal divisions, which provide general support for the other divisions and department operations.