Conservation Conflict

Governor Hull Says It's Time For Inclusiveness In Politics. Environmentalists Say She Won't Give Them The Time Of Day.

SANDY BAHR HAS a lonely job. As conservation outreach coordinator of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, Bahr is the only full-time environmental lobbyist at the Arizona Legislature. She's usually the sole voice in opposition to bills that fly through the conservative Legislature -- bills navigated by her fellow lobbyists who represent big business, bills Bahr says benefit industry and weaken environmental laws. Bahr may not have many true friends at the Capitol and her cause may not be popular, but she is considered smart, plain-spoken and resilient. She can get an audience with most legislators, including those who get failing marks from her organization. Even business lobbyists have grudging respect for her. And she has had her successes. She does, after all, speak for more than 12,000 Sierra Club members, and Arizona voters who time and again have gone to the ballot box to support the group's initiatives.

But there's one person at the Capitol Bahr can't get a meeting with, no matter how hard she tries:

Governor Jane Dee Hull.

Bahr has written Hull a stack of letters on various topics. She always requests a meeting; she never gets one. Not with Hull, and rarely with her staff. In fact, Bahr says she has received just one piece of correspondence from the governor's office: a form letter on a bill Hull vetoed.

This may come as a surprise to casual observers of Arizona politics, because during her two years in office Hull has gained a reputation as a consensus builder who is willing to bring all interested parties to the table -- regardless of their differing views -- to hash out good public policy. And she deserves credit for doing so in many areas: mental health, education, children's issues.

But not, some critics charge, when it comes to the environment.

Bahr is not the only environmentalist who can't talk to the governor. Robin Silver, conservation chair of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, can't get a meeting. Jack Fraser, an activist from Fountain Hills in Maricopa County, says the governor's office has stopped returning his calls. Bob Witzeman of the Maricopa Audubon Society says he hasn't even bothered to try.

Urban sprawl is one common area of concern among the conservationists dissed by Hull, and they all find themselves in opposition to -- or at least wary of -- the Growing Smarter initiative approved by state voters last year. Growing Smarter has strong support from the governor.

The Sierra Club is now gathering signatures for its own growth-management initiative, which it hopes to put on the ballot next November.

Carla, executive director of the McDowell Sonoran Land Trust, believes the governor finds her guilty by association. She says she's been shut out of the Growing Smarter process and discussions with the governor's office because she refuses to stop speaking to the Sierra Club.

"As the representative of an organization that believes firmly in cooperation, and trying to stay at the table to work on positive solutions, it's extremely frustrating to find ourselves disinvited because we choose to keep lines of communication open with groups, like the Sierra Club, that the governor's office seems to view with disfavor," Carla says. "If you quit talking to people, how can you solve problems?"

The environmentalists grouse that the only green folks who can get a meeting with Hull are the ones with connections -- people like Luther Propst, who heads the Sonoran Institute here in Tucson. He snagged a seat on the Growing Smarter commission, which wrote the growth-management proposal that's now being considered by a legislative committee. Wealthy land speculator and Hull campaign contributor Don Diamond sits on the Sonoran Institute's board. (Propst did not return calls.)

But Bahr wants to discuss more than growth with the governor. She and her fellow conservationists are concerned about the governor's stands on endangered species, on state trust lands and on issues facing the Department of Environmental Quality, an agency whose very existence is up for a sunset review. DEQ recently hired Jim Buster, a former legislator with one of the worst environmental records in the '90s, as its legislative liaison. The conservationists don't like Hull's appointments to the state Game and Fish Commission or that she's backing federal legislation that would allow more Grand Canyon overflights. They are disappointed that the shining star in her environmental agenda -- the appropriation of state money toward the purchase of Spur Cross Ranch in northeastern Maricopa County -- appears threatened because the sellers may back out.

Representative Carolyn Allen, a Scottsdale Republican and chairman of the House Environmental Committee, is surprised that Governor Hull has spurned Bahr's meeting requests. Allen listens to Bahr, even though Bahr gave her an "F" in 1997 on a legislative report card.

"I've had mixed relations with Sandy in years past, and Sandy and I meet frequently now," says Allen, who is generally viewed as a Hull ally. "I don't know to what advantage they would do that, refuse to meet with Bahr. It seems to me to be somewhat shortsighted."

Hull was not available for comment, but her policy adviser Stuart Goodman was asked why the governor ignores Sandy Bahr.

Goodman says the governor is not ignoring Bahr. "The governor encourages all her staff to meet with all parties in an effort to build consensus on any given issue," he says -- and then goes on to mention the only meeting anyone can remember Hull holding with environmentalists, a meeting here in Pima County last month. A meeting to which the Sierra Club and Southwest Center for Biological Diversity -- two of the state's largest and most influential environmental groups -- were not invited. He also mentions a bill that Hull and Bahr both opposed during the last legislative session; the measure would have offered polluters who "voluntarily remediate" pollution to avoid the state's enforcement laws.

"To the extent that certain groups are disappointed in the governor's position on a particular matter, those are simply based on philosophical differences and policy differences and not based on an access issue," Goodman insists.

Bahr says the silent treatment she's gotten from Hull is enough to make her nostalgic for former governor J. Fife Symington III: "The bottom line is, we certainly didn't think Fife had great policies on the environment, but at least you could get in and talk to someone."

SANDY BAHR AND her fellow environmentalists did take heart last year when Governor Hull fired Department of Environmental Quality director Russell Rhoades, a man widely considered to be one of Symington's worst hires. Under Rhoades, the poorly managed, underfunded agency faltered even more, prompting legislative leaders in 1997 to grant DEQ only two years of guaranteed existence, instead of the 10 years normally assured in the sunset review process.

Those two years are up, and Hull's new DEQ director, Jacqueline Schafer, is preparing for the next sunset review hearings. Schafer has a nice resume and insiders say she's smart. She even met with Bahr -- it only took Bahr two months to get an appointment.

In addition to her agency's sunset review, Schafer also faces confirmation hearings during the next legislative session. She will be grilled by legislative leaders like House Speaker Jeff Groscost, a Mesa Republican who has been critical of DEQ in the past. Business lobbyists likely will offer to help smooth her confirmation hearings, provided she pledges to help with industry-friendly legislation.

Bahr and her fellow conservationists are watching closely to see what Hull's position on the DEQ sunset review will be. Hull and Groscost don't always agree on issues. Presidential politics -- Hull's a George W. Bush backer, Groscost is one of Senator John McCain's hired hands -- could further strain relations and muddy issues such as DEQ's fate.

"I'm not sure Jane Hull is very much of an environmentalist in the first place," says one Democratic legislator who requested anonymity. "How hard is she going to fight on this issue? I don't know. She likes good press. There's that old saying, you know, whatever comes out in the press, the next day the governor takes a stand on it. And these are her people that say this, not me. The Democrats like her."

Hull has been concerned enough about DEQ to hire a policy adviser, Kathi Tees, who devotes all her time to monitoring the agency.

"We're very supportive of the agency. We want to see it be the best agency that it can. We think that there needs to be a continuation of DEQ in the state," Tees says, adding that if DEQ is sunsetted, Arizona would be one of few states without an agency dedicated to protecting the environment.

Bahr remains skeptical. One of Jacqueline Schafer's -- and, by association, Hull's -- first significant moves has set off alarms inside the environmental community. Last month, former GOP legislator and Yuma mayor Jim Buster joined DEQ as a legislative liaison. (Buster joins John Atkins, best known as the husband of U.S. Representative Bob Stump's chief of staff, Lisa Jackson Atkins.) While chairman of the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, in the mid-'90s, Buster sponsored such anti-environmental legislation as the controversial self-audit privilege bill -- dubbed "The Polluter Protection Act" by conservationists -- which would have allowed companies that voluntarily clean up pollution to get immunity from prosecution, and keep everything a secret. It was considered so onerous that Fife Symington vetoed it.

Schafer says she hired Buster in large part because he was a former legislator, and because he was from Yuma; she says she needed rural representation. As for his legislative record, she says, "I asked him, when I interviewed him, whether he thought he could support the department in the key issues that would come up this year. ...I satisfied myself that he could support the existing department positions in these matters. It just didn't occur to me to ask about what bills he carried in previous years, so long as he felt comfortable with the things on our agenda today."

Of Buster's hire, Bahr says, "The department has hit a new low with this one. To hire a man who sponsored some of the worst environmental legislation of this decade to lobby the agency's key bills -- well, it's totally ridiculous. After Jim Buster is finished with DEQ, we may wish it was sunsetted."

If you're surprised to hear an environmentalist suggest -- even in jest -- that DEQ be dissolved, don't be. In its 12-year history, DEQ has been under attack from all sides: the business community, which says it drags its heels in granting permits; the Legislature, which says it's unresponsive to information requests; and environmentalists, who say the agency is too friendly to industry. (Samantha Fearn, lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, did not return calls.)

If DEQ is sunsetted, the Legislature and governor have two options: turn over control of many environmental cleanup efforts to the federal government, or assign the agency's various tasks to other state agencies. For example, give the Department of Water Resources control over water-pollution enforcement.

Jeff Bouma, a Phoenix environmental attorney who has represented business interests and neighborhood groups as well as the Sierra Club and Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, says, "I'm of the opinion, just abolish DEQ. It ain't worth spending the money. I would love to see DEQ sunsetted. The Republican leadership has proven they can't be trusted to do anything responsible on the environment.

"If DEQ gets sunsetted, the Environmental Protection Agency takes over, Arizona becomes a much better place. So I'd just as soon they shut the whole fucking place down and quit pretending to protect the environment. Right now, DEQ is basically a waterboy for industry and uses its resources to pretend to protect the environment, but it rubber-stamps every project that comes along, it doesn't do enforcement and, quite frankly, it ain't worth a bucket of warm spit."

DEQ director Schafer insists her department can be reformed. The state auditor general is in the process of releasing reports on three areas of concern regarding water quality -- the aquifer-protection permitting (AAP) process, the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund (WQARF, the state's version of the federal Superfund program, which does remediation on polluted groundwater), and the underground storage-tank program. All three have been under siege for years.

And with good cause, according to Sandy Bahr.

Schafer says the aquifer protection permitting program is backlogged because the department inherited more than 1,000 permits when it was created in 1987. Bahr counters that the real problem is that the mines have chipped away at the law, making it less potent and trying to gum up the permitting process. DEQ and the Legislature have allowed this to occur, she says.

"I think the mines' theory is if they can delay being permitted long enough, the ore will either run out and they will be off to South America or they will have gutted the APP program to a degree that it just won't matter," Bahr says.

Schafer has high hopes for WQARF. She says recent appropriations have brought the program up to speed, and that there is better communication with the regulated community because of the creation of the WQARF Advisory Board.

Bahr observes that the committee is made up almost entirely of industry representatives and is bereft of environmentalists.

"It's a who's who of polluters or their attorneys," she says. "They usually meet during the middle of the, as you might imagine, there is very little public input."

Further, Bahr says, WQARF laws are much more lenient than the federal law. For example, with DEQ's permission, it is possible to conduct successful remediation without bringing water up to safe drinking standards. During the last legislative session, Hull signed a bill that shifted additional costs from the polluter to the public.

"Should it matter if a company has to tighten its belt a bit to clean up a mess it made?" Bahr asks.

She points to the Mission Linen Uniform and Linen Supply case as an example of WQARF's inefficiency. The site, near Park Avenue south of Broadway, contains unsafe levels of tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene, and the Environmental Protection Agency wants to list it as a Superfund site and get it cleaned up. Governor Hull has written to the EPA, opposing such a move and claiming that WQARF will take care of it.

But, as Bahr observes, the Mission Linen site has gone untreated for years, on the state's watch. She mentioned that in an August letter to Hull -- which went unanswered.

As for DEQ's underground storage tank cleanup efforts, Schafer acknowledges that the program -- which, thanks to industry's efforts at the Legislature, allows for polluters to bill the state for up to 90 percent of cleanup costs -- is tremendously backlogged. But she says the department is catching up, and that should be reflected in the upcoming audit report.

Bahr calls the underground tank program "another mess. Even some of the industry people have referred to it as a huge welfare program. To be fair to DEQ, the Legislature jerks them around every year on this and changes the law, so it is a moving target. Frankly, it is such a mess that I cannot even bear to spend time on it."

Speaker Groscost is concerned about the state's vehicle-emissions program. He says he has been requesting air-quality figures from DEQ for almost two years, and the department has balked. (Nancy Wrona, who runs DEQ's air-quality division, did not return calls.)

If he doesn't get the information by the time the sunset review process is under way, DEQ had better watch out, Groscost says. He can always shove the bill in his bottom drawer, and DEQ would be history.

"Agency accountability has been something of a hallmark of my administration," he says. "We believe that if we tell an agency to do something, that in fact they should not only be accountable, but we should have some sort of baseline, some sort of benchmarks to measure just how well they've done it. And with DEQ, we have some very real questions about...whether that has occurred."

The speaker doesn't want to give EPA control; he insists that DEQ could easily be parceled off to other state agencies.

"I'm not going to say that those functions can all go away. I certainly am not that simplistic. There's very important jobs being done by DEQ, whether they're being done well or not....Our preference is to take the current agency, make it responsive and also make sure...that they're complying with and enforcing the policy of the state."

The most likely scenario, Groscost says, would be a one- or two-year extension for DEQ. Schafer says she's aiming for the maximum, 10.

Bahr is waiting to talk about DEQ with the governor.

"I haven't had any requests for meetings with Sandy," Kathi Tees insists. "I would be happy to meet with her or with anybody else...Everyone on our staff is like that. Governor Hull is very consensus-building, that's been her philosophy."

Maria Baier, the governor's point person on environmental issues outside of DEQ, did not return repeated calls.

ROBIN SILVER IS still waiting for an answer to his letter to Governor Hull, dated November 14, 1998. In the letter, Silver, of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, requests a meeting with Hull, and does not hold back in expressing his concern over her environmental record.

"When former Governor Symington left office, we were hopeful that such attitudes at the governor's office would change," Silver wrote. "We were particularly hopeful when it became apparent that then Secretary of State Jane Dee Hull, the 'kindly grandmother' and former school teacher, would be our next governor. Unfortunately, little has changed. Many of us within the environmental community have been deeply concerned by the continuing animosity toward protection of Arizona's imperiled native wildlife by our new governor."

Silver only fueled the animosity when, upon not receiving a response to his letter, he crashed a luncheon in December sponsored by Valley Forward, a group of Maricopa County business leaders, at which Hull was honored with the first-ever Quality of Life Award -- for her contributions to the environment.

Hull did not attend the event. Maria Baier, who advises the governor on environmental issues, accepted the award in her place. Silver says Baier was not amused when he and others handed out copies of Hull's comments about the Endangered Species Act.

"We have no access to the governor. So the only way we can even get her attention is we have to have interaction in public," Silver says, recalling that Baier "was incredibly angry, thought that was rude."

One of Silver's cohorts crashed another meeting recently. Hull met with Pima County environmentalists this fall, but the Sierra Club and Southwest Center were not invited. Stephanie Buffum, the Southwest Center's director of development, heard about the meeting, and crashed.

"Her [Hull's] big thing is to say that she's met with everybody interested," Buffum says. "Now she can say she's met with Pima County environmentalists. So it was a courtesy call, nothing more than that."

One of the topics was the endangered pygmy owl, whose protection could jeopardize development of a number of large housing and highway projects in the Tucson area. The owl's habitat stretches over more than 700,000 acres. Buffum says Hull was ill-informed on the issue. She's not wrong: In her June radio show, Hull mentioned that she was upset with the U.S. Forest Service over the pygmy owl issue -- when it's actually the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that has jurisdiction over endangered species.

Since the Tucson meeting, a federal judge has ruled in favor of protecting the owl, issuing a ruling that calls on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the impacts of pending building.

In contrast to the Southwest Center, environmental attorney Jeff Bouma says he's had a good experience with Hull's office -- but he says the issue made all the difference.

Bouma represented Concerned Citizens of New River, a group opposed to burning the cache of chemicals and explosives discovered in their neighborhood in 1997. Bouma worked closely with officials, including George Weisz, an adviser to Hull, to come up with a compromise that eventually ended up in the safe removal of the dangerous materials last May.

With a couple minor exceptions, Bouma says, "George did a great job going to bat for us on New River. He gave us access."

But, the attorney adds, "You can't view New River as a traditional environmental case. Had that been a bomb factory in the middle of a delicate ecosystem in which you had endangered species, would the governor's office have been willing to spend that type of money and effort on protecting it? Given her public pronouncements, I'd have to guess no."

In the end, Bouma says, he agrees with Robin Silver: "The only way you can deal with the governor's office and the Legislature on environmental matters is to put things on the ballot."

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