Arizona officials are often quick to tell the federal government to stay out of state business. However, when it comes to local government, Arizona legislators are often quick to interfere in municipal business. This hypocrisy needs to stop.
Arizona PIRG supports local, state and federal laws that protect consumers and protect our democracy. If a government body that is closer to the people it represents wants to enact a policy that is more protective for its citizens, it should have that ability. Yet our legislature is fast-tracking bills that would once again toss away the fact that Arizona is a Home Rule state, which grants authority to certain municipalities.
If adopted, Senate Bill 1222 and House Bill 2686 would prohibit municipalities and counties from denying a utility a permit, even for safety or public health reasons. The legislation is written so broadly that it would outlaw a locality’s ability to adopt or amend ordinances or implement other measures that would allow for community oversight.
Southwest Gas, a regulated monopoly, is promoting these bills in Arizona, and the American Gas Association is promoting similar efforts across the nation. And by reviewing recent documents it is abundantly clear why. Recent research has highlighted the financial benefits of new buildings that are completely electric. Additional research has pointed to air pollution and adverse public health impacts associated with gas stoves and appliances.
Preempting the ability of locally elected leaders in our municipalities and counties from adopting measures that best protect the jurisdiction and citizens they serve and mandating a uniform approach for utilities that provide unique services should not be #TheArizonaWay.
The above factors should be enough for Arizona lawmakers to vote no on SB1222 and HB2686. But if any doubt remains, the proposed bills also are subject to considerable interpretation and raise a number of questions that could lead to unintended consequences.
For instance: The term “utility provider” is used throughout the legislation, but is not defined or referenced. Do the bills apply to utility services including electricity, gas, water, telecom and sewer? If not, which utility(s) does it apply to?
And the bills lack clarity on the potential onus to municipalities and counties. For example, what is the expected fiscal impact to municipalities and counties? How long does a municipality or county have to comply? Would municipalities and counties be prohibited from denying a utility access to land designated for future use as part of its land use or general plan? How would a municipality or county resolve multiple requests from utilities for the same land? What, if any, are the implications for unincorporated areas of the state? Would this prohibit a municipality or county from adopting or amending water and energy conservation codes that improve efficiency and save residents money?
The bottom line: as long as SB1222 and HB2686 preempt municipalities and counties from adopting measures that are stronger than state law to protect the pocketbooks and health of their citizens, the bills will be bad for consumers and bad for our democracy.