What's Wrong With This Picture?

State Senator Russell Bowers is best known for his archconservatism, his assault on environmental regulations and . . . his fine art?

The freshman senator was chosen by conservative Republican legislative leaders and Governor J. Fife Symington III to chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, a plum position that gives him the power to decide how much money each state agency gets, making him a man of tremendous influence.

There are those who find irony in Bowers' complaint of arrogance on the part of Maricopa County officials who were willing to let the shooting range sprawl to within a mile of his home. Or in his lamentation of destruction of the desert near his home.

Those are the attitudes of a NIMBY, not a deregulating capitalist.
One of those is Jeff Bouma, an environmental attorney who found himself speaking before the House Environment Subcommittee, which Bowers chaired, several years ago.

The committee was considering a Bowers bill to eliminate a state law allowing ordinary citizens to bring legal action if the state Department of Environmental Quality, which has a reputation for acting with glacial speed, had ignored an environmental problem for more than 60 days.

At the time, Bowers pushed for the law's dismantling because it allowed for there to be "four million DEQ directors running around."

But the law had been invoked a grand total of four times, all over groundwater contamination. The law's air-pollution provision was never used.

While it allowed for the awarding of attorney's fees, it did not allow citizens to collect damages; it merely compelled polluters to comply with the law and pay penalties to the state--a situation similar to Bowers' 1990 suit against Maricopa County.

Bouma, who filed three of those four citizens' antipolluter lawsuits, spoke before Bowers' committee and urged that the provision be saved.

He told of a case settled in 1991, in which a resort's wastewater-treatment plant was dumping pollution into Oak Creek near Sedona, one of the state's most beautiful and popular tourist destinations. DEQ hadn't enforced the law, so Bouma sued, forcing the resort to stop polluting and pay $200,000 into the state general fund.

Bouma pointed out to Bowers' committee that the lawsuit represented free legal work for the state, and added that he hadn't taken a dime for his efforts.

After Bouma finished speaking, the committee had no follow-up questions for him, and voted to scrap the measure. Bowers' bill became law.

Bouma recalls the reception he received in the committee.
"I was standing up there for quite a while, and the whole time I spoke, all these industry lobbyists are sitting there behind me," he says. "Well, I can tell you that they never had to get up and address the committee.

"It was obvious that the decision [to scrap the measure] had already been made behind closed doors."

Today, without the guarantee of reimbursement for legal costs that the old law promised, Bouma says there is "no way" he would take on another case like the one that helped clean up Oak Creek.

Bouma says he has "nothing good" to say about Bowers.
"The guy's basically owned by industry," Bouma says. "He talks about the little guy who's burdened by environmental regulation, then turns a blind eye to the little guy who gets hurt by the pollution."

A glimpse at Bowers' campaign-finance reports highlights his close ties with industry. According to his 1996 filings, Bowers accepted:

* $200 from lobbyist Kristen Boilini, who represents landfill giant Browning-Ferris Industries, and $270 from BFI's own political action committee.

* $100 from lobbyist Charlie Stevens, who represents gas-station owners.
* $270 from TRW, which manufactures air-bag propellants at its Mesa plant.
While in the House, Bowers lent his weight to other notorious bills as well, most notably the "Polluter-Protection Act," which he co-sponsored with another archconservative, then-senator Jim Buster, who chaired the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee.

The bill would have allowed companies that pollute to disclose the extent of their violations to DEQ and win immunity from prosecution as long as they cleaned up the mess. The records of such disclosures would be kept secret. The bill even contained a provision for a $10,000 penalty for whistle-blowers who disclosed the secrets.

Industry lobbyists backed the bill, saying it would have encouraged companies to monitor themselves and clean up pollution without fear of penalties. Environmentalists lambasted the measure, saying it would have protected industry from prosecution and kept the public in the dark about pollution hazards.

Faced with the real possibility that environmentalists would have launched a petition drive to refer the measure to the ballot, Governor Fife Symington vetoed the act.

Bowers' last major push while in the House involved changes in the state Superfund (also known as the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund) that would make it easier for polluters to get low-dollar settlements with the state. His legislation also imposed a moratorium--July 1996 to July 1997--forbidding state regulators from suing polluters.

And last session, Bowers introduced legislation that would have allowed a large multistate dry-cleaning company to pay only $250,000 of the $10.6 million state officials say it will cost to clean up a massive underground plume of toxins that has been traced to a plant it once operated on West Buchanan Street.

According to his 1996 campaign-finance reports, Bowers took $670 from 14 separate dry-cleaning operations, and $100 from attorney Jim Vieregg, who represents the American Linen and Supply Company.

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