Legislative Environmental Issues

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The state legislature is not getting good marks for its work on the environment from one local organization. Sandy Bahr of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club will talk about legislation she says put at risk health and safety; public lands, wildlife habitat, and cultural resources.

Ted Simons: The Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club is not giving state lawmakers high marks for their work on the environment in the past legislative session. Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club is here to explain. Thank you so much for joining us.

Sandy Bahr: Pleasure to be here.

Ted Simons: Doesn't sound like you were that pleased by what happened this go-round.

Sandy Bahr: It was quite disappointing. We started the session thinking the legislature might step up and address some of the environmental problems We face, promote renewable energy, energy efficiency. At least do a few things to protect land and water and air. The whole session was spent trying to stop those bills that undermined protection.

Ted Simons: Did Medicaid expansion play a factor in some of the laws you were wanting to see or see blocked?

Sandy Bahr: I think the legislators were not as focused on -- and in some ways that's a good thing, there might have been more bad bills. But they weren't as focused on environmental protection.

Ted Simons: I did see a funding increase for State Parks. That would be a good thing.

Sandy Bahr: There was additional funding included in the budget bill for State Parks and that's a possible. Parks have been hit very hard over the last several years. They didn't sweep the Parks' fund, but also didn't reinstate a fund they took away, the Arizona Heritage Fund. They had swept that and repealed it a few years ago and didn't reinstate it now that the budget was looking a little better. That was disappointing, as well.

Ted Simons: Still no dedicated funding source?

Sandy Bahr: Nope. Every year it's a struggle to keep our Parks funded.

Ted Simons: Let's take a look at some of the bills I know you were focused on yourself. Health and safety audit privilege. What was that all about?

Sandy Bahr: We called it the Polluter Protection Act. That bill allowed companies to do an audit and keep information in the audit secret. That focused on environmental protections. This bill expanded that idea to health and safety protections. So if a company does an audit and find violations of health and safety laws, harm to people even, they get to keep that information secret in this audit. And none of that information can be used in any kind of a civil proceeding, any kind of fine or action against the company.

Ted Simons: I know the rationale for this, though, was it provides incentives to do internal audits and to fix those problems without having to worry about what comes later. Valid argument there?

Sandy Bahr: Well, we don't have a problem with programs that actually do provide incentives for doing the right thing. But this type of program is the wrong direction. It provides a shield of secrecy. It really protects the bad actors. If you had repeat violations or you were doing things consistently to harm the public, you could hide it in these audits. We think sunshine will bring more environmental protection and protection of our health and safety.

Ted Simons: But if they are not hidden in these audits, fair game?

Sandy Bahr: That's correct. But if you're a big company and you have a lot to hide you're probably going to be doing an audit.

Ted Simons: The use authority of off-highway vehicles, what was that about?

Sandy Bahr: That was partly Arizona Game and Fish having a power struggle with the federal government. The bottom line is the bill allowed game and fish officers, as well as the sheriffs, to ignore harm to public lands, especially public lands that have been protected from off-highway vehicles. So say there's somebody ripping up a wilderness area or a river or a stream, important wildlife habitat, they can't actually do any enforcement if it's on public land that has been closed to off-highway vehicles.

Ted Simons: Are you saying they can't do any enforcement or gives them flexibility to choose?

Sandy Bahr: No, it's actually prohibited on the closed lands. They have the option of enforcing the wildlife habitat protections on any land. But on the closed lands they can't do enforcement.

Ted Simons: I know county sheriffs and game and fish were very much responsible for this bill. Why were they so much for it?

Sandy Bahr: Well, game and fish didn't get everything it wanted from the Forest Service and one of the travel management plans, so it decided to say, we're not going to do enforcement. The very sad thing is they went back on an agreement. There was a bill several years ago where they got funding for seven full-time officers to do specifically off-highway vehicle enforcement. And now they are going back on that agreement.

Ted Simons: When game and fish says the new federal rules that many thought were too restrictive and the bill addressed, they put in reasonable restrictions on hunting, fishing and camping, you would say --

Sandy Bahr: Not at all. Not at all. They protect resources. In fact, a lot of people who hunt, fish and camp don't want to have an ATV driving through the middle of their campsite. They want a little bit of quiet recreation. Ultimately what we're talking about is protection of resources, protection of wildlife, wildlife habitat. And having off-highway vehicle it is ripping up habitat and disturbing wildlife, that's not going to be good for hunters or wildlife overall.

Ted Simons: There is a middle ground from what you would like to see and what the federal restrictions are and what this bill, this law does? Is there a compromise in there somewhere?

Sandy Bahr: There's a lot of land open to off-highway vehicles out there. There are a lot of roads throughout our national forests, the BLM land. There are some areas that are closed and they are closed to protect resources.

Ted Simons: I know Sierra Club was interested in changes to citizens referendums.

Sandy Bahr: House bill 2305, they did the Christmas tree approach, put everything but the kitchen sink in there. Bottom line, initiatives and referenda, they are an important check on the power of the legislature. The legislature's never liked them. They would like more power. Each session we see several bills that aim at weakening citizens' rights to initiative and referenda. A lot of them didn't pass, this session was no different. This bill makes it more difficult to put an initiative or referendum on the ballot. It makes it easier to throw things out on a technicality.

Ted Simons: Last question: What didn't pass that you see as a victory?

Sandy Bahr: House Bill 2404, a bill to weaken energy efficient building codes. It was measure that basically prohibited local governments from implementing strong building codes. And these energy efficient building dozed save a lot of money, save consumers a lot of money, they save a lot of energy and that results in less pollution and less water use. It's a win-win-win. This time the home builders did not get that bill through.

Ted Simons: Were you surprised by that?

Sandy Bahr: I was very surprised by that. The home builders usually get what they want from the Arizona legislature.

Ted Simons: What do you want to see? What are you gearing up for next session?

Sandy Bahr: We would like to see legislators step up and look at our parks and look at energy issues and say, how can we do better? You know, Arizona is a sunny state. What can we do to help promote solar energy in our state? How can we help ratepayers and individuals in their homes save energy and also reduce pollution. What can we do to protect our parks and wildlands. And by the way, how about if we reinstate the Arizona Heritage Fund, $10 million they had swiped that the voters had approved, time to put it back and fund things like trails, historic preservation and cultural resources.

Ted Simons: Sandy, thank you.

Sandy Bahr: Thank you.

Sandy Bahr:Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter;

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