Thanks so much for those of you who came to our LD9 Bipartisan Town Hall last Saturday. It was a really energizing event, in large part because of the mix of folks that attended -- a great blend of Republicans and Democrats together at a political event, something not often seen lately.
The positive results proved that if we come together to engage respectfully -- even if we disagree -- the fraying fabric of our common political discourse will be strengthened. This is vitally important for the future of our democracy. Your presence made that happen, so thank you.
This year, much more positive bipartisan interaction is happening at the Legislature -- witness our recent vote to provide emergency funding to Child Protective Services -- but there are still some unfortunate tendencies to retreat to the same old battles from time to time.
One of those battles took place in the course of a six-hour Senate Government and Environment Committee meeting yesterday. Chair Gail Griffin (R-Hereford) called a three-hour informational hearing on the EPA's proposed rules to force coal-fired plants near national parks to install the best available technology to scrub certain pollutants from their emissions.
Testimony was only taken from those who were against the federal ruling, so the picture was pretty skewed in favor of the utilities who told us that the cost of the cleaning equipment was so outrageous, it would force residential customers to pay an extra $1.50 a month. They also claimed that the cleaner air would neither improve visibility or public health, but no scientists were called to testify, nor were environmental groups. And we were told that the increased energy costs would cause massive job loss and cause utilities to go bankrupt.
In short, the reduction of harmful pollutants by the EPA would create untold devastation, we were told, and it was all the federal government's fault.
Later in the hearing, we got around to voting on a bill that would send a message to Washington to that effect, SCR1012. This is a type of bill known informally as a "postcard to Congress". It has no practical effect different from sending an actual postcard, except it has gone through votes in the Legislature, and it costs $4,000 to send instead of $0.32.
In his explanation of vote for the bill, Chester Crandell (R-Heber), explained that this issue "felt like we are in 1776" to him, and it was time to take up arms against a tyrannical government which was overstepping its bounds. That sounded a little more like 1861 to me, and I'm not at all sure that kind of rebellious language is helpful in a public policy arena.
Instead of throwing stones at one another, in cases like this I believe we would be better off talking to one another and negotiating a mutually beneficial outcome. I mentioned several possibilities at the hearing. They all start with a respectful dialogue with the EPA, minus all the talk of catastrophe.
One option is asking for the Feds to help offset the costs of the scrubbing equipment, since one major benefit is the reduction of pollutants on federal lands. Hundreds of jobs would be provided to workers installing, operating, and maintaining this equipment, which would no longer be as costly for the utilities and their customers, and the air would be cleaner as well.
Alternately, we could get the Feds to agree to allow us to use the money that would otherwise be spent on the scrubbing equipment to instead be used for the transition from a coal plant to a renewable solar or wind plant with a cleaner natural gas-fired baseload generator for times when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. The jobs are maintained and global-warming gases are reduced as well.
If we talked more deeply, we could also solve the deeply ironic problem that many of those who work on the Navajo Generating Station (one of those coal-fired plants) still live in homes without electricity.
I do believe that talking, not yelling, will lead to mutually beneficial solutions that can provide victories for all parties -- those who own the plants, those who work in the plants, those who use electricity from the plants, those who breathe in the area, and those who would like our planet to still be habitable a hundred years from now.
I have a bill that will help in that regard, too, SB1271. This is my Solar School grant program, and it is the sixth year I have attempted to get it heard.
Basically, it institutes a fee of .05 of one cent per kilowatt hour of electricity generated from non-renewable sources -- the coal- or gas-fired plants that produce more than half of the global-warming carbon dioxide emitted in Arizona. This will cost the average homeowner somewhere around 60 cents per month.
All those funds will create a fund of more than $60 million annually that would then pay for the creation of 100% solar-powered energy-efficient public schools throughout Arizona. Ultimately the school in each neighborhood would become a solar power plant, selling power back to the grid, slashing school utility bills, educating today's students to become tomorrow's solar scientists, making our grid more secure, reducing demand for more carbon-emitting power plants, and boosting energy production in the peak summer months when school is not in session and demand peaks.
It is the kind of thing we should be doing to make ourselves more energy independent and reduce our carbon emissions while boosting our high-tech solar economy. Sadly, it is unlikely to be heard again this year, since President Biggs is using his bill assigning powers to put huge roadblocks in front of bills he doesn't like. 1271 has been double-assigned, meaning it has to pass through two committees before it has a chance to be voted on the floor. And there is only one more week to hear Senate bills in Senate committees.
I am also the proud owner of two out of the five bills (all Democratic) given especially unfavorable triple-assignment this session. There was a good article on this in the Sunday Arizona Republic: http://www.azcentral.com/news/politics/articles/20130206arizona-triple-treatment-bills.html
On the good side, I do have a couple of good bills still moving -- more on those next week. And there are a few other things up my sleeve this session to create positive change in Arizona. Stay tuned!
Thanks for your faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley