Environmentalists / Legislature

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Hear from Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Pedro Lopez, program director of Chispa AZ, a Hispanic environmental group, about what the environmental community would like to see as legislative priorities.

Ted Simons: Environmentalists and conservationists have taken a defensive posture at the state capitol in recent years. Will that mindset again be at play when the legislature convenes next week? For the answers, we welcome Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, and Pedro Lopez, program director for Chispa Arizona, an organization working to organize Latinos on environmental issues. Good to have you both here, thanks for joining us.

Sandy Bahr: Great to be here.

Ted Simons: So what do you want to see from lawmakers this session?

Sandy Bahr: Well, a short session and do no harm, but I mean, I'm only half joking about that. I mean, seriously we need to move away from these destructive policies that they've been proposing in recent years. I would really like to see them do some things that are good for environmental protection, which ultimately is good for our economy, including to help promote rooftop solar, promote energy efficiency, really address water issues in a comprehensive manner and bringing in environmental voices, not just the usual suspects that want to grow more alfalfa in the desert or grow more rooftops on those alfalfa fields. So really looking at environmental protection as a key component of our future and our economic future as well as, you know, important for our children.

Ted Simons: From your perspective, what do you want to see?

Pedro Lopez: Well, last year we saw the legislature pass a bill to allow the Arizona department of environmental quality to lead the conversations on the clean power plant and this year, you know, we're tasked with drafting a plan that is going to set us on a good path to meet the requirements from the EPA. So what we hope for is to see the legislature put some pressure on the department to ensure that we develop a good plan for the state.

Ted Simons: Sandy mentioned the economic potential of good stewardship. Is that an avenue to get the attention of lawmakers?

Pedro Lopez: Definitely, I agree with sandy on that topic.

Ted Simons: And again, you've got to show that there are tangible results to conservation, correct?

Sandy Bahr: The numbers are in. I mean, we have the research, conservation of land, and it's critical to our tourist economy, the people of Arizona repeatedly say they support protection of land, clean air, I mean seriously having poor air quality costs us, it costs businesses, it costs every one of us, kids with asthma ending up hospitalized, missing school, missing work days. Protecting the environment pencils out very well and it is critical and people, if you want people -- and you want a diverse economy, you know, they're going to want those amenities, clean air, clean water, and protected land.

Ted Simons: And yet there seems to be movement to remove clean water act provisions, co2 from existing power plants, that's an issue, as well. How do you frame those issues?

Pedro Lopez: Right now, our communities and Arizonans have been clear that they are demanding that our legislature and our government take responsibility to clean up the air we breathe, to take responsibility to care for their voters, for their community. And so we hope that voters are going to be vocal this year. They're going to be also at the capitol lobbying their lawmakers to ensure that they do reflect those values that they hope for.

Ted Simons: Your group represents Latino Arizonans, how do you get those voices out there, how do you get those voices heard?

Pedro Lopez: Well with Chispa, AZ, we talk to Latino families on a day to day basis, either door to door, over the phone and we inform and we educate of what the issue is and what can they do to make sure our government is doing what they're supposed to be doing for us. So this year we're going to see a big increment of Latino voters at the state legislature lobbying their lawmakers to ensure that they do in fact, what we want.

Ted Simons: Another issue that always comes up at the legislature is sovereignty over federal lands, over the water, over the air that we control it, not the feds. They always get a little bit of traction but they never get too far. Expecting more of the same this year?

Sandy Bahr: Yes. There's this document called the U.S. Constitution that keeps getting in their way. And seriously, the sovereignty bill that they have introduced talks about the U.S. Constitution being the law of the land and in the next sentence, they violate it. I mean, they propose violating the U.S. Constitution, saying that they're not going to abide, spend any public resources on complying with U.S. Supreme Court decisions unless the Congress affirms those decisions. And, you know, I think that they need to familiarize themselves with the Constitution that is hanging on the walls in the legislature. But this whole sovereignty thing, most people understand that we are part of the United States, that the clean air act and the clean water act are popular. They've done a lot of good in this country. If they thought they could attack them head on, they would but they come at them this back door way, making it about fighting the federal government instead of about what it really is, which is cleaning up the air and the water.

Ted Simons: And as far as your concern, when you talk to your constituents, people that follow your organization, people that your organization represents, what are they telling you? What are they saying that's important to them and do they understand what's going on at the capitol? Because a lot of folks aren't even aware of what's happening down there.

Pedro Lopez: Yeah, one of the main concerns that they are extremely concerned about, the air quality that we have here in the state. The fact that there's a myth that Latino families do not care about the environment or a single-issue community is not true. They know there's a process and they know that ultimately, we have to elect leaders who are going to reflect our values. And so we keep pushing our constituents to voting, you know. That's the only way that we're really going to create change is to get our families to go to the polls and not necessarily vote for a candidate but vote for the issue that you care about the most.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Some things that didn't make it last year, are you expecting to see a return of the ban of salvaging native plants, the idea that nuclear power can be a renewable energy, the leaky underground storage, extending that. The things that we saw last year that didn't quite make it, are you expecting to see those kinds of things return this year?

Sandy Bahr: Well, I hope they learned their lesson on the ban on salvaging native plants because there was a huge outcry by the public and some fairly conservative lawmakers said no way I'm not voting for that. So I hope they learned their lesson on that one but we'll see. I would expect to see the nuclear power one. Again, I can't imagine that it would actually pass but I would expect to see it again. The problem with all of those types of bills is while we're fighting ridiculous measures, we're not making the kind of progress we should be making.

Ted Simons: And that's my last question. Again, you're on the defensive again. Every year we ask you to come on and it seems like you're fighting, fighting. Is there anything progressive in your mind that can be accomplished this year?

Sandy Bahr: There is, I don't know if it will be but there certainly is. Last year, even though there wasn't a big bill that we were promoting that went through, the bottom line is after all was said and done and all the arguments, the legislature passed a bill to specifically authorize the Arizona department of environmental quality to develop a plan under the clean power plan. Specifically under the clean air act. So that did come out of it after all of the, you know, ruckus around it, a bill got through, a plan is being developed. We have hopes that it will be a good plan for Arizona.

Ted Simons: Encouraged something progressive could happen this session?

Pedro Lopez: I think it would be extremely helpful to see something similar to what California is trying to accomplish. They called it the 50-50-50 bill, 50% reduction in petroleum, 50% renewable energy and a 50% increase on current buildings to be renewable energy friendly. And so to us, I think that will be a good bill to start. Definitely it's something that will be a challenge to pass. But at least it would be a good pass.

Sandy Bahr: Get it rolling maybe.

Ted Simons: If that passes you're back on this show pronto. [ Laughter ]

Ted Simons: Good to have you both here, thanks for joining us.

Sandy Bahr:Chapter director for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, Pedro Lopez:Program director of Chispa AZ

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