Environmental Legislative Preview

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Find out what the environmental community thinks the legislature should be working on this upcoming session. Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, will tell us more.

Ted Simons: The state Legislature begins its new session next week, which gives us time this week to hear what advocates for a variety of issues are looking for from lawmakers this year. Last night we heard from the business community. Tonight, Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon chapter tells us what environmentalists are hoping to see. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us. What do you want to see from lawmakers this go around regarding environmental issues?

Sandy Bahr: First of all, what we always would like to see from them is for them to do no harm. One of the thngs that we have seen at the Legislature over the last few years is a real attack on environmental protections, eroding protections that have been in place for a couple of decades. And so we would like to see them stop that. And really think about the importance of preventing problems instead of waiting down the road and having to clean up polluted water, for example, makes a lot more sense to have a strong aquifer protection program that keeps the pollution out of our groundwater.

Ted Simons: Were there bills that failed last year that you think will likely return?

Sandy Bahr: Yes, definitely. There were a number of bills, attacks on Mexican gray wolves, trying to allow for more killing of wolves, fewer protections, funding litigation against wolf recovery. I would expect to see some of those back this year. Every year we see some bills that are, you know, thumb, the Legislature thumbing its nose at the Federal government. So the wolf bills and endangered species bills definitely fit into that category. I would expect some bills related to public lands, even though Arizonans strongly support our public lands and have sent a very strong message to the Legislature that they do not want the Legislature in charge of them. I would expect the Legislature to come back with measures aimed at trying to gain more control of public lands.

Ted Simons: Using your example of wolves here for a second, how do you balance wolf recovery with ranching interests?

Sandy Bahr: Well, it's actually fairly easy. But if you use the facts, it's fairly easy. Wolves take very few livestock. There is a co-existence plan in place to help ranchers avoid problems and to compensate them if there are problems. So it really, you know, it really is not the issue that they make it out to be. But there's just this irrational really dislike of wolves and some people in the Legislature would like to see no wolves in Arizona.

Ted Simons: As well we talk about protecting land and water, how do you do that and also protect property rights, water rights, these sorts of things? How do you get that environmental issue in there? But also protect those rights?

Sandy Bahr: Well, protecting the land, protecting the air, protecting the water is actually protecting our property rights. Because what we don't want our neighbor polluting water that runs on to our property or dumping something toxic. These laws are in place, and if they are properly implemented and enforced, they protect our rights and they also protect the rights of future generations, which is something that is often left out. The Governor, his first action, was to implement a moratorium on rule making related to regulation. And to me that's a foolish thing to do. We know it doesn't save money. And what it means is our laws are not going to be implemented the way they should be. They won't be updated. We don't have -- won't have the kinds of protections in place we need to protect our air, water, and the land. And it's actually essential to protect our rights and also essential to our economy. Anybody who is paying attention knows that tourism is a big part of our economy. And a lot of people come here to see places like Grand Canyon and Saguaro National Park as well as our wonderful state parks which is something else we would like to see from the State Legislature. Will you please step up and find a sustainable funding source for these parks? And we don't mean privatization.

Ted Simons: Well, and that brings us now to the budget when you talk about sustainable funding sources. Funding sources of any kind. The budget is the 10,000 pound gorilla in the room as far as the Legislature and the Governor is concerned. How do budget problems impact what you want to see happen at the Legislature? I mean, it's going to impact every aspect. How does it impact environmental concerns?

Sandy Bahr: Well, it's pretty devastating, actually. When Governor Brewer took office, early on, she actually helped eliminate the Arizona heritage fund. This was a fund that had been in place since 1990, provided funding for parks and for trails, historic preservation. Really a popular fund that benefited pretty much every legislative district in the state. That's gone. We haven't been able to get that reestablished. We no longer have any state funding for conservation of land. They let the state trust land funding expire. So there's no funding for that. The Department of Environmental Quality is funded primarily by fees now. About -- more than 80% of the agency is funded by permit fees. And that provides an incentive for them to push those permits out. And really means the people who are getting the permits are the ones driving the agenda more. And that's a real concern.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Sandy Bahr: We ought to be protecting air and water with our general fund dollars, not just relying on permit fees.

Ted Simons: But again as far as the state's economic woes, the impact of that on your agenda, it's got to be pretty strong. And how do you get around that? How do you get the attention of lawmakers? When you say something like let's increase funding for this. And they tell you we are already $500 million down.

Sandy Bahr: They do have to look at new funding programs. And several years ago, in fact, right when Governor Brewer became Governor, there were recommendations on how to fund state parks. A fee at the time of registering your vehicle could be something that if you didn't want to do it, you could opt out. But a fee like that. And I think most people, if they had a $10 fee when they registered their vehicle it wouldn't be a huge hardship and it could help provide a lot of funding for state parks and mean that we weren't letting them deteriorate and have a backlog of costs for things that, if they are addressed early, earlier, probably going to be cheaper.

Ted Simons: Last question here. What specifically, most importantly, will you be watching at the Capitol this session?

Sandy Bahr: Well, we will be watching for more cuts and more weakening of programs. We really feel like they have cut the agencies about as much as they can, and if we are going to see our environmental laws actually implemented -- what you have on the books has to be implemented. Then they need to make sure the funding is there.

Ted Simons: An environmental day at the Capitol. That's always big. When is that?

Sandy Bahr: January 22nd. It's a Thursday. And we already have about 100 people that are signed up to be there to talk to their lawmakers about how important environmental protection is to them.

Ted Simons: All right. Good to have you here.

Sandy Bahr: It's great to be here. Thank you.

Sandy Bahr:Director, Sierra Club - Grand Canyon Chapter;

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