A prominent environmental group said this year’s legislative session will go down in history as one of the most devastating for the state’s natural resources.
The Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club released its annual legislative report card, ranking the Legislature generally and individual lawmakers specifically in terms of their support or opposition to measures related to the environment. This year, the group gave the Legislature an “F.”
Arizona’s Sierra Club Director Sandy Bahr said it was the worst legislative session she’s seen during her 12 years of lobbying at the Capitol.
“There was almost nothing that furthered environmental protection at the Arizona Legislature, and many bills that weakened environmental protection from air quality to water quality,” she said. “We were hoping for a short session anyway, and the fact that they ended earlier than last year – yeah, huge sigh of relief because at that point no further damage could be done.”
The Sierra Club points to several areas of concern. For example, lawmakers passed a bill to prohibit the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The governor signed a bill that weakened the state’s aquifer-protection permitting process. The State Parks budget was cut by more than half. And funding for local transportation projects, including mass transit, was eliminated.
The Sierra Club’s litany of complaints is long, but some lawmakers simply don’t care.
“I didn’t go down there to please the Sierra Club,” Sen. Sylvia Allen, a Republican from Snowflake.
What the report really means, Allen said, is that the Legislature stood up for individual freedom and for streamlining regulations.
“It’s the people who own property who are protecting their environment, and people who depend upon the land, they are protecting the environment,” she said.
Other lawmakers, though, endorsed the Sierra Club’s criticism.
“It was a horrible year for the environment,” said Sen. Paula Aboud, a Democrat from Tucson.
The group, in its report, focused on what the Legislature did to the state parks system, which was struggling even before lawmakers slashed more than 50 percent of the money used to operate the parks.
The budget blow to the parks system is devastating, Bahr said. Her group reports that State Parks received less than $8 million in the fiscal 2010 state budget, which was down considerably from the $26 million allocated in fiscal 2009.
State Parks actually receive additional money from other sources, but the amount of state funding has, indeed, dried up considerably, leading to seven park closures so far.
“They were already cut to the bone and (were) receiving no general fund dollars,” Bahr said. “They really gave them no recourse but to close parks and work out as many side deals as possible with local communities and volunteers to keep them rolling.”
The bright spots were few and far in between, according to the Sierra Club.
One highlight, the group noted, was that lawmakers approved a bill to continue solar energy incentives. The Legislature also backed away from several bills that were opposed by the Sierra Club, including one that would have allowed the state to fill abandoned mines with old tires.
“You could almost hear the air, the land and the wildlife sigh with relief when the Arizona Legislature adjourned on April 29,” according to the Sierra Club’s report.
The Sierra Club gave failing marks to many individual lawmakers. Gov. Jan Brewer, 37 House members and 18 senators received an “F” when it comes to protecting state parks, air and water quality, rivers and streams and wildlife management. Most lawmakers who were given failing grades are Republicans.
On the other hand, Democratic Sens. Leah Landrum Taylor of Phoenix and Meg Burton-Cahill of Tempe both received A-pluses.