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Arizona is in the midst of a megadrought and rising temperatures, but Republican lawmakers this year again chose to sideline proposals aimed at combating climate change.
While the state has yet to adopt a cohesive statewide action plan, cities throughout Arizona have taken individual measures to combat the state’s climate crisis, including Tempe, Mesa, Phoenix and Flagstaff. Numerous bills were introduced during this year’s session that targeted climate change and sustainability, but those proposals all died without being considered in both the state House of Representatives and Senate.
“There’s just not enough critical mass in the legislature, and certainly in the governor’s office, to make the transition to clean energy a priority,” said Will Humble, executive director for the Arizona Public Health Association.
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The GOP controls the governor’s office and both legislative chambers in Arizona. Republicans have repeatedly deemed climate and sustainability issues as trivial, resulting in a lack of traction on bills that aim to help Arizona’s climate crisis, said Sandy Bahr, chapter director of the Sierra Club Arizona, a grassroots environmental organization.
“It’s really disturbing, because it’s so clear that this is an issue and most of the public is there. They’re way out of step with the people of Arizona on this,” Bahr said .
While political polarization plays a part in the lack of statewide climate action in Arizona, there also are laws that make combating climate change seem like an impossible task for advocates. For instance, one law passed in 2020 prohibits the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality from taking any measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions unless it has authorization from the legislature.
The Arizona Corporation Commission has constitutional authority to regulate utilities and create and enforce energy policies, but during last year’s legislative session, GOP lawmakers in both chambers sought to give the power to set energy policies to themselves . Both bills that targeted the Corporation Commission’s power ultimately failed.
“I want to see the Corporation Commission setting rates and the legislature setting energy policy,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.
Cities in Arizona plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as Tempe’s 2022 Climate Action Plan Update, which aims for zero greenhouse gas emissions in city operations by 2050, but Ducey signed a law in 2020 that prevents Arizona cities and towns from banning natural gas.
“We were one of the first states to do that, where in other places they’re actually limiting it because they understand methane is a huge greenhouse gas and gas stoves have huge public health implications as well,” said Bahr.
Despite these laws and lack of support from the GOP on combating the state’s climate crisis, climate change advocates and environmental groups are still pushing for action and government intervention, while also encouraging Arizona residents to do their own part.
Residents can do their part in small ways, such as using rooftop solar, switching out lightbulbs to LED, planting big trees on the west side of their houses and continuing to inform legislators that energy efficiency and clean energy are important issues, said Humble.
Bahr explained that the key to advocating for climate change, while residents wait for the shift to a statewide action plan, is to always keep climate a part of the discussion.
“We need to keep pressuring them to do things. We need to ask people when they’re out in town halls or when meeting with constituents what they are doing about climate because we absolutely have this,” she said.
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