by Jim Nintzel
Despite their best efforts, Arizona legislators did not do nearly as much damage as they intended this session. Of course, saying that “it could have been worse” just lets them off the hook for a variety of truly awful actions, many of which will be resurrected next year. They did almost nothing to advance environmental protection, either.
“Arizona is this amazing place with truly incredible natural wonders — from Grand Canyon to Petrified Forest to Saguaro national parks, not to mention our remarkable state park system that safeguards Kartchner Caverns, Homolovi Ruins, and the Tonto Natural Bridge,” said Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “Why are our ‘leaders’ proposing to mortgage this wonderful natural capital just to advantage one business or industry or to serve some personal perceived slight? It is our health, the state’s biological diversity, and the future of Arizona’s children that are most at risk.”
It was again a highly partisan session, but the worst aspects of it were the abuse of power by those in leadership. From banning individuals from buildings and news conferences to limiting media access to suspending the rules at a drop of the hat, it was pretty outrageous. The budget was probably the best example of a body run amok. Only 30 hours after the Senate dropped its budget bills, they passed. The House then jammed through significant amendments to those budget bills in less than 24 hours. The Committee Hearings were not noticed properly, the bills and amendments were not posted properly, and, in the end, the legislators sent the governor budget bills that they had not read properly and that contained considerable errors. There was no opportunity for the larger public to participate.
“Not unlike last year’s budget, the budget passed for Fiscal Year 2012 was a mean budget with regards to environmental programs,” said Bahr. “In an attempt to put a nail in the coffin of our state parks, the legislature siphoned away even more dollars from them, forcing them to again turn to park closures and creating a huge cash-flow problem that could affect paying rent, meeting payroll, or paying for operations.”
The good news is that some of the most outlandish bills died in the Arizona House after being voted out of the Senate with overwhelming majorities. The “License to Pollute” measures both failed to get a hearing in the House. The House also defeated a bill to hinder native fish recovery and another that would have weakened Arizona’s voice in the transmission line siting process.
There was a ray of hope at the Capitol contained in a bill to provide some additional mechanisms for dealing with particulate pollution. While it certainly helped that the federal Clean Air Act is a strong law, Representative Amanda Reeve, the bill sponsor, is working with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Maricopa County, the Maricopa Association of Governments, and various stakeholders to develop a plan that really cleans up our air. There is cautious optimism on that effort.
Overall, though, there was little about the 50th Legislature’s First Regular Session to write home about when it comes to protecting our environment, our communities, and our future.
This year, 39 House members and 21 senators received failing grades and did not break even with a zero. On a positive note, one senator and seven representatives earned an “A+,” which means they voted 100 percent pro-environment and also did not miss a vote on the key bills we scored. Five senators and nine House members received an “A.” Governor Brewer once again earned an “F.”
Senators were graded using 17 votes and House members 14 votes. Governor Jan Brewer was graded on 8 bills. Everyone was graded on a curve, although no curve would be great enough to address how poorly many legislators did. The bills focused on a number of issues, including the budget, public involvement in transmission line siting, native fish recovery, Mexican gray wolf protections, and air and water quality, among many other issues.
The best news of the session is that it was relatively short and adjourned in 100 days (or 101, if you count the early morning hours of April 20th).
View the background on the anti-environmental legislation here.