When I ask people what they like most about living in Arizona, it’s unusual to get a response that doesn’t mention the environment. Sure, there’s always the “I don’t like to shovel,” but more often I get “It’s a darn beautiful place,” “My wife and I, we like to hike” or “What’s wrong with you, haven’t you felt the sun and seen the mountains?”
Those of us lucky enough to have lived here a while are in constant danger of forgetting that Arizona’s rugged beauty hides a vulnerable environment that we, its stewards, must protect and manage if we are to sustain healthy communities and a strong and resilient economy. That is why my caucus in the Arizona House of Representatives is not content to wait. We are committed to acting now to protect our air, water and land for generations to come.
Climate change is real and it impacts the lives of Arizona residents more and more each day. We are proposing science and sustainability measures that increase energy efficiency, reduce pollution and encourage clean transportation. These include adopting a statewide climate adaptation plan that will help us prepare for hotter temperatures, more drought and more frequent and intense wildfires. We must also revise and finalize the state’s 2007 draft climate mitigation plan to put us on a clean-energy path. It includes boosting our energy efficiency standards and encouraging clean transportation.
In this fragile desert we call home, nothing is more precious than our water. We must build on the historic Drought Contingency Plan Arizona signed last year and put in place measures that will protect our water security. This means safeguarding the 93 percent of all miles of streams in Arizona that will lose federal protections under a Trump Administration rollback of federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction. It means putting in place measures to conserve Arizona’s groundwater, a nonrenewable resource that provides 40 percent of the water we use to drink and water our crops, and to ensure we know just how much groundwater we are pumping even in our most rural areas. It means keeping up with other lower Colorado River basin states by adopting industry and EPA-recommended plumbing efficiency standards for our toilets, showers and faucets. (Memo to the President: You need only flush these toilets once per use. They work. Try to get out once in a while.) It also means proactively establishing health-based standards for toxic pollutants known as PFOS and PFAS recently detected in sources of drinking water when EPA has failed to do so.
Arizona’s state parks are unparalleled in their scenic beauty and provide habitat to diverse plants and animals that, in many instances, can be found almost nowhere else on Earth. These parks are also an economic engine attracting tourists from around the world, and a much-needed respite for the state’s city-dwellers. Years of neglect, however, have taken their toll. Today these trails and buildings need repairs, and our open spaces must be renovated and restored, and tribal and cultural artifacts identified and preserved. While a bill last year restored the Heritage Fund, it failed to fund it. Our budget would annually restore the $10 million that the voters wanted distributed from the lottery to the parks when the fund was first established.
Future generations may not care whether lemonade is our official state drink, or if it’s ok to call something “meat” if it didn’t have parents. But I guarantee they will care if we leave them a degraded and unsustainable environment. There is simply no time to lose, we must act to safeguard Arizona’s environment now.
Kirsten Engel represents Legislative District 10 in Arizona’s State House of Representatives.