Despite a lot of hoopla at the beginning of Napolitano's administration, environmental protections for kids have not improved much

But because integrated pest management is more involved than blanket pesticide spraying, it's also more expensive. Currently, 14 school districts in Arizona are able to participate in the program. There are others, like Roosevelt School District, that have shown an interest, but do not have financial resources to implement IPM strategies. Gouge says DEQ does a good job supporting the program on a voluntary basis, but the program will need monetary support from the state if it's going to expand.

"They [DEQ] should be supported better than they have been in the past," she says. "We are at our limit. For us to expand, we're going to require new resources."

And while Gouge and her co-workers never ask the schools they work with to pay for their expert advice — that's taken care of by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency — schools are responsible for remediation costs to fix any problems.

Fred Harper
ADEQ director Steve Owens
ADEQ director Steve Owens

"For some schools," Gouge says, "that's just not possible."

California has laws in place to protect children's health, including the aptly named Children's Environmental Health Protection Act of 1999. California is also the only state in the Environmental Protection Agency's region nine (including Arizona, California, Nevada and Hawaii) that has a strategic asthma plan.

DEQ's Steve Owens says mandates and regulations for schools were never the goal of the project. Part of the problem would be enforcement — his office is already understaffed.

"If you have a mandatory program, you have to get into the question of how you would enforce it," Owens says. "It's one of those things that are tough to enforce from a regulatory perspective. For a lot of schools, one of the most useful things we do is give them the tools they need to do this stuff themselves."

Another problem is funding. DEQ and the Legislature are far from compatible — in 2004, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee actually tried to sunset the agency — and getting any funding through the Legislature, let alone passing an actual environmental bill, is tough. The funding DEQ tried to pass this year, part of which would have gone toward retrofits for diesel school buses for cleaner engines, was not approved. A 2005 bill that focused on air quality in school buildings (Senate Bill 1009) was passed but virtually gutted when provisions for air quality inspections in schools were removed. This year's Senate Bill 1350, which forces schools and child-care facilities to notify parents when pesticides are going to be sprayed and give them the option to keep their children home, made it through the Legislature, but only because Bahr and other environmental lobbyists fought hard.

Barbara Burkholder, the policy and advocacy committee chair for the Arizona Asthma Coalition, has worked with the Children's Environmental Health Project since its inception and understands the reasons for the funding and lack of implementation beyond volunteering.

"The legislators are really keeping DEQ on a short leash," she says. "It's a revolving door — the agency can be criticized for not carrying out its function, but if you . . . don't give them enough money, it says, 'We don't appreciate everything you do.'"

A common sentiment throughout environmental and public health circles is that, as far as children and the environment go, Napolitano is "better than the alternative."

But the Sierra Club's Sandy Bahr says that's not a good standard. If Napolitano could rally some of her political capital and make environmental health a top priority, Bahr is certain she could get bipartisan support in the Legislature and really begin to make a difference.

"Right now we're at crisis management. That's how we do everything," Bahr says. "The governor could be nudging agencies to do more: Draft legislation. Look into putting some funds for preventative maintenance and invest in better equipment up front. Look for opportunities for cooperation on legislation and help highlight new information. What would the people of Arizona rather have — healthier kids or some little tax cuts? I think most people would rather have healthy kids."

But the governor's office agrees with Owens that there is not a need to create and enforce any new regulations.

"There's no need to mandate issues associated with these programs," says Faeth, the governor's environmental adviser. "The bigger focus is coordination of the agencies that have to do with children's health."

Bahr and others working on the ground disagree. While cooperation and dialogue between agencies is essential, Bahr says it's just not enough.

"I think if one child dies because of bad air quality, it's too much. The fact that we accept it is so wrong," she says. "Industry people try and turn things around, and they love the cost-benefit analysis. But if it's your kid that dies from asthma, how do you do a cost-benefit analysis on that? The fact is we're not doing a good job."

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