The Skinny

Earth Movers

Republicans flunk Sierra Club's report card, want to grab federal land to cut down trees and mine hillsides

The Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club released its annual report card on the Arizona Legislature last week—and all but one of the GOP lawmakers flunked, meaning they voted the right way on two or fewer bills the Sierra Club was using for their rankings. (Republican Rep. Noel Campbell of Prescott got a D, along with Democrat Rep. Barbara McGuire.) All Southern Arizona Democrats got A grades, with the exception of state Rep. Bruce Wheeler, who got a B.

Gov. Doug Ducey, meanwhile, scored a D—primarily because he vetoed legislation designed to push the state into seizing federal forests and other lands for mining and timber operations. Ducey generally likes the concept and signed legislation creating a committee to study it, but thought the action in both bills was premature.

Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr said that lawmakers "tried exceedingly hard to move our state backwards on environmental safeguards, public lands and conservation of endangered wildlife."

"What continues to be appalling about the Arizona Legislature is that at a time when our state faces great environmental challenges, it passed no bills to significantly advance conservation, to promote solar energy and energy efficiency, or to ensure that our rivers and streams continue to flow," Bahr said in the report's release.

Among the environmental highlights in the session:

• Lawmakers banned counties, cities and towns from banning plastic bags or establishing energy benchmarks.

• Lawmakers passed a bill that requires strict compliance with all election laws, which means that more citizen initiatives could be removed from the ballot over minor technical issues.

• A bill to limit off-road riding of all-terrain cycles in sensitive areas was amended to exempt anyone involved in mining activity.

• Lawmakers passed a bill that gives the state resources to pursue right-of-way claims to build highways across federal land under a federal law that was eliminated in the mid-'70s. Ducey signed the legislation.

• Lawmakers did pass a bill requiring the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to develop a plan to comply with the EPA's new rules restricting greenhouse gas emissions—but, Bahr notes, "the only reason they did is they don't want the environmental Protection Agency to develop a plan." At the same time, lawmakers passed a resolution asking Congress to shut down the EPA's effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

• Republicans passed a bill that that would have given the Arizona Attorney General's Office a mandate to sue the federal government if it didn't turn over title to the federal lands inside Arizona (with a few exceptions, including National Parks and military bases). A second bill encouraged state officials to look into entering into a compact with other aggrieved western states to pursue federal land grabs.

Ducey vetoed those two bills, but he signed one that would create a study committee to review the best way to seize the federal lands. In his veto letters, Ducey told House Speaker David Gowan that he shared "your concerns about the amount of federal lands in Arizona" and was awaiting the results of the study committee to figure out the best way to proceed.

The push to gain control of federal land is a recent preoccupation of GOP lawmakers. They passed a similar bill in 2012, only to have it vetoed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer. They also asked voters to approve the idea of seizing control of federal land on the 2012 ballot; the measure was soundly rejected by 68 percent of the voters.

Arizona isn't alone in seeking to lay claim to federal lands. A movement is growing in Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and other western states to grab federal land based on the notion that local officials can put it to better use with mines, timber operations and ranching.

That push is getting support in Congress. Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake were among the 51 Republicans in the Senate who voted in early March to support a non-binding amendment to the 2016 budget that would allow the federal government to sell off public lands. And Republicans in the House of Representatives also voted for a budget resolution last month that noted that the "federal estate was far too large" and the U.S. government "cannot properly manage all this land." It supported "reducing the Federal estate, and giving States and localities more control over the resources within their boundaries. This will lead to increased resource production and allow states and localities to take advantage of the benefits of increased economic activity."

Bahr said it strikes her as unlikely that that Arizona's government would be any better at taking care of the wilderness areas than the federal government has been.

"We can't properly care for the land that we have, whether it's state parks or state trust land," Bahr said.

Border Tips

Barber, Norris joining Homeland Security advisory committee

Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris and former congressman Ron Barber have a new gig: They'll be part of a Homeland Security Advisory Council for Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Barber told The Skinny he had recently passed a White House vetting and would be off to his first meeting next week.

The council has different taskforces and Barber didn't know earlier this week "where I'm going to land," but he said he wanted to focus on talking about securing the border to help border residents in Cochise County and helping with comprehensive immigration reform.

He mentioned that he would also push to resolve the immigration case of Rosa Robles, who has been living at Southside Presbyterian Church for more than eight months to avoid deportation proceedings.

"We need to get her out of sanctuary," Barber said.

Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs at 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning on KGUN-9. This week's guests are Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll and Tucson City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich.

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