It has been awhile since the environment had a good session at the Arizona Legislature, but it has also been awhile since we have seen anything quite as awful as the 2010 Legislature.
Sure, there have been some terrible sessions, including those years when Rusty Bowers chaired the House Environment Committee and tried to pass what we dubbed the “Polluter Protection Act,” a measure to allow companies off the hook for environmental violations — and keep it a secret.
That bill failed or was vetoed each time. In fact, that was the key; most of the worst stuff was killed or modified in the process and there was a strong corps of legislators to stand up for protection of public health and the environment.
Now, there is a significant majority at the Capitol that appears to embrace an anti-environmental agenda, and gone is any semblance of bipartisan support for clean air, clean water and land protection.
This year was going to be a challenging year no matter what, due to the economic condition of the state. There was no reason, however, economic or otherwise, to repeal programs such as the State Parks Heritage Fund or the Local Transportation Assistance Fund — diverting dollars is one thing, but completely eliminating these programs is a whole other matter.
How exactly does weakening groundwater protections help the economy? Or for that matter, exempting concentrated animal-feeding operations from county zoning requirements?
Does giving a small group of people control of the Game and Fish Commission benefit wildlife, the economy or the public as a whole? Hardly.
To understand how bad it really was, you need only look at how many attacks the Heritage Fund has withstood since it was first passed by the voters back in 1990. Despite the fact that it was not voter-protected, it had withstood between 35 and 40 attacks and diversions. This year, the attacks succeeded. After 20 years of defending it, we saw it go in the blink of an eye.
Parks often fall in a category with motherhood and apple pie. Who does not like parks? Well, the Legislature answered that question. Today, parks are closed and more will be closing; volunteers and local communities can only sustain them temporarily. There was a solid proposal on the table to help parks — allow Arizonans to visit parks for free for a small fee on the vehicle license — but Rep. John Kavanagh refused to even hear this bipartisan solution.
There were a few bright lights, including the governor’s veto of a bill to make Arizona a safe haven for incandescent light bulbs, the failure of a bill to promote dumping used tires in mines, and withdrawal of a measure to define nuclear power as renewable energy and create a renewable-energy standard that conflicts with the one adopted by the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Sen. John Nelson put together a land-exchange proposal that addressed key concerns about transparency and accountability — a good example of how you can address a problem if you listen and work together. Too bad there was not more of that.
— Sandy Bahr is director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club.