Twisted Ecologic

Governor Hull says it's time for inclusiveness in politics. Environmentalists say she won't give them the time of day.

Goodman says the governor is not ignoring Bahr. "The governor encourages all her staff to meet with all parties in an effort to build consensus on any given issue," he says -- and then goes on to mention the only meeting anyone can remember Hull holding with environmentalists, a meeting in Pima County last month. A meeting to which the Sierra Club and Southwest Center for Biological Diversity -- two of the state's largest and most influential environmental groups -- were not invited. He also mentions a bill that Hull and Bahr both opposed during the last legislative session; the measure would have offered polluters who "voluntarily remediate" pollution to avoid the state's enforcement laws.

"To the extent that certain groups are disappointed in the governor's position on a particular matter, those are simply based on philosophical differences and policy differences and not based on an access issue," Goodman insists.

Bahr says the silent treatment she's gotten from Hull is enough to make her nostalgic for former governor J. Fife Symington III: "The bottom line is, we certainly didn't think Fife had great policies on the environment, but at least you could get in and talk to someone."

Sandy Bahr and her fellow environmentalists did take heart last year when Governor Hull fired Department of Environmental Quality director Russell Rhoades, a man widely considered to be one of Symington's worst hires. Under Rhoades, the poorly managed, underfunded agency faltered even more, prompting legislative leaders in 1997 to grant DEQ only two years of guaranteed existence, instead of the 10 years normally assured in the sunset review process.

Those two years are up, and Hull's new DEQ director, Jacqueline Schafer, is preparing for the next sunset review hearings. Schafer has a nice résumé and insiders say she's smart. She even met with Bahr -- it only took Bahr two months to get an appointment.

In addition to her agency's sunset review, Schafer also faces confirmation hearings during the next legislative session. She will be grilled by legislative leaders like House Speaker Jeff Groscost, a Mesa Republican who has been critical of DEQ in the past. Business lobbyists likely will offer to help smooth her confirmation hearings, provided she pledges to help with industry-friendly legislation.

Bahr and her fellow conservationists are watching closely to see what Hull's position on the DEQ sunset review will be. Hull and Groscost don't always agree on issues. Presidential politics -- Hull's a George W. Bush backer, Groscost is one of Senator John McCain's hired hands -- could further strain relations and muddy issues such as DEQ's fate.

"I'm not sure Jane Hull is very much of an environmentalist in the first place," says one Democratic legislator who requested anonymity. "How hard is she going to fight on this issue? I don't know. She likes good press. There's that old saying, you know, whatever comes out in the press, the next day the governor takes a stand on it. And these are her people that say this, not me. The Democrats like her."

Hull has been concerned enough about DEQ to hire a policy adviser, Kathi Tees, who devotes all her time to monitoring the agency.

"We're very supportive of the agency. We want to see it be the best agency that it can. We think that there needs to be a continuation of DEQ in the state," Tees says, adding that if DEQ is sunsetted, Arizona would be one of few states without an agency dedicated to protecting the environment.

Bahr remains skeptical. One of Jacqueline Schafer's -- and, by association, Hull's -- first significant moves has set off alarms inside the environmental community. Last month, former GOP legislator and Yuma mayor Jim Buster joined DEQ as a legislative liaison. (Buster joins John Atkins, best known as the husband of U.S. Representative Bob Stump's chief of staff, Lisa Jackson Atkins.) While chairman of the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, in the mid-'90s, Buster sponsored such anti-environmental legislation as the controversial self-audit privilege bill -- dubbed "The Polluter Protection Act" by conservationists -- which would have allowed companies that voluntarily clean up pollution to get immunity from prosecution, and keep everything a secret. It was considered so onerous that Fife Symington vetoed it.

Schafer says she hired Buster in large part because he was a former legislator, and because he was from Yuma; she says she needed rural representation. As for his legislative record, she says, "I asked him, when I interviewed him, whether he thought he could support the department in the key issues that would come up this year. . . . I satisfied myself that he could support the existing department positions in these matters. It just didn't occur to me to ask about what bills he carried in previous years, so long as he felt comfortable with the things on our agenda today."

Of Buster's hire, Bahr says, "The department has hit a new low with this one. To hire a man who sponsored some of the worst environmental legislation of this decade to lobby the agency's key bills -- well, it's totally ridiculous. After Jim Buster is finished with DEQ, we may wish it was sunsetted."

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