Arizona’s 2008 legislative session: a marathon of missed opportunities

[Source: Grand Canyon Chapter, Sierra Club] — The 2008 Legislative Session is best characterized as too long with too little accomplished.  After 164 days -– the fourth longest on record -– there was little to point to in the positive column for environmental protection, and much time was wasted waiting for legislators to come to agreement on a budget, the only thing they absolutely have to do.  The Legislature missed a great opportunity to do something significant relative to energy efficiency and did little to promote renewable energy, but they did pass a bill to constrain Arizona’s ability to limit greenhouse gas emissions, a measure that was later vetoed.  “We were very disappointed that in the waning days of the legislative session, Senate leadership was unwilling to bring an important energy efficiency measure to the floor for a vote -– despite the fact that there was strong support for it,” said Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter.  “At a time when we should be doing all we can to promote renewable energy and invest in energy efficiency, legislators instead focused on undercutting the Governor’s ability to work to limit climate change.”

Once again, the bad environmental legislation outweighed the good.  The worst of the environmental bills did not advance, however, and several bills were vetoed, including the terrible greenhouse gas bill.  A measure which would have undercut science-based wildlife management was defeated in the House Committee of the Whole early in the session, thanks to the efforts of Representative David Lujan and other members in the House.  Finally, while the budget will not promote a lot of environmental protection nor adequately fund implementation of key programs, the Legislature did refrain from raiding the Heritage Fund.  The Heritage Fund provides dollars for parks and wildlife.  No measures advanced to undercut the initiative process, but, unfortunately, a citizen initiative has been filed that will do so.  The Legislature also did not refer a measure to compete with the citizen initiative on conservation of state trust lands.  “We were happy to see a bill to help protect lands from off-road vehicle abuses advance through the process and be signed into law by the Governor,” said Bahr.  “The bill will provide dollars for law enforcement, mitigation, and restoration of public and private lands.  It can also help facilitate some needed closures of sensitive areas.  This was a small bright light in an otherwise lackluster session.”

Overall, at a time when the country is focusing on energy issues and the need to promote conservation, efficiency, and renewable sources, the Arizona Legislature came up short.  The lack of leadership and lackluster performance is reflected in the grades on this year’s report card.  In the Senate, there were eight senators who received failing grades and ten who earned a “D.”  In the House, 28 representatives — nearly half the body — failed, and another four got a “D.”  On a positive note, one senator and four representatives got an “A+,” which means they voted 100% pro-environment and also did not miss a vote on the key bills we scored.  One senator and 16 House members received an “A.”