The Sierra Club flunks legislative Republicans on environmental issues

Green Grades 

The Sierra Club flunks legislative Republicans on environmental issues

Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr says the legislative session could have been worse.

"It was better than what we thought it was going to be," said Bahr, the longtime legislative lobbyist. "When it started out, there were probably more bad environmental bills filed this session than we've seen in a while."

But many of those bills died during the legislative grind—and a few that passed the Legislature were vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer. When you grade on a curve, the session was an improvement from the anti-environmental bent of recent years, which saw the state slash funding for state parks, incorporate new powers of immunity for polluters into law and otherwise weaken environmental protections.

"In comparison the last three years, this session was much better," Bahr said.

Nonetheless, a number of anti-environmental bills did get through the Legislature. They form the basis of the 2014 edition of the Sierra Club report card, which was released last week.

It's pretty easy to see how lawmakers rate. All the Republicans got failing grades and all but a half-dozen of the Democrats got A's. (The other six Democrats earned B's.) Five Southern Arizona Dems—Reps. Demion Clinco, Sally Ann Gonzales, Stefanie Mach, Macario Saldate and Victoria Steele—earned the rank of "conservation champions."

Brewer, because of her vetoes, got a C-plus.

Only a few Southern Arizona Republicans got back to the Weekly to comment on their low grades.

State Rep. Adam Kwasman (R-LD11), who is in a three-way primary to determine who will challenge Congressman Ann Kirkpatrick (D-CD2) in November, said that he did not support "the Sierra Club's anti-jobs agenda."

"Sadly, The Sierra Club has become a front group for radical environmentalists," Kwasman said.

Bahr said that "if wanting clean air, clean water and some wildlife that's not listed as endangered, and protecting public lands is radical, OK. Look at the bills and see how they voted. The bills speak for themselves. Anytime that they wanted to speak up for environmental protection, they could have voted against these measures."

Meanwhile, Rep. Ethan Orr, who is in a tough reelection fight in a swing district that includes Catalina Foothills and central Tucson, noted that every Republican got a failing grade.

"Considering I sponsored more environmental pieces of legislation than many Democrats, and worked to amend a number of bills to make them more environmentally sensitive, I have to ask the question: Are they playing partisan politics or they actually trying to pragmatically protect our environment?" Orr said.

Bahr said that many of the bills that Orr sponsored—including an energy bill and legislation to reinstate the Heritage Fund, a lottery-funded initiative to support transit and state parks that was eliminated by the Legislature a few years ago—didn't advance.

"I've had several conversations with Rep. Orr," Bahr said. "It sounds like he cares about the issues. But when it comes down to how he votes, he votes anti-environmental nearly every time. He's not even really considered a swing vote anymore."

Other Southern Arizona Republicans who failed the report card include Reps. David Gowan, David Stevens, and Steve Smith, as well as Sens. Gail Griffin and Al Melvin. Melvin is running for governor this year and frequently complains via his Twitter account that the state has too many trees.

Here are a few of the bills that the Sierra Club based the report card on:

• SB 1011 would have allowed ranchers to kill endangered Mexican gray wolves who kill livestock on public lands. The legislation, which is contrary to federal endangered species laws, was vetoed by Brewer.

• SB 1478 prevents the Arizona Water Protection Fund from being used to restore or create mesquite habitat and allows the state to remove mesquite bosques. Brewer signed the bill.

"We tried to talk to legislators about the importance of mesquite bosques and how, next to the cottonwood and willow habitat, they support the greatest diversity of bird species and how it's an important habitat tree," Bahr said.

• HB 2523 was originally a bill that involved financing for water infrastructure projects, but, according to the Sierra Club report card, it amended to allow the state, counties, and cities to accept out-of-state "special waste." This means that certain landfills can accept petroleum-contaminated soils, shredded waste from plastics and metals, and more from surrounding states. ... As there was no real discussion, no committee hearing, and no information provided on the amendment, it raises significant questions about the risks and what kind of liability county taxpayers will incur." Brewer signed the bill.

For a complete list and summary of the legislation that the Sierra Club scored this session, visit arizona.sierraclub.org.

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