Best Environmentalist 2019 | Sandy Bahr | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Sandy Bahr might as well be Superwoman, given the sheer scope of environment-affecting activity she tracks throughout Arizona. Often, she is the lone voice in the room advocating for environmental protection, no matter how seemingly niche or wonky the issue (it always seems niche, until your water is too dirty to drink). Find her testifying in a House committee hearing on a bill governing water in Harquahala Valley, or catch her at a meeting hosted by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality on the state's efforts to take over a federal program regulating clean waterways. Such stalwart persistence and tirelessness in the face of powerful interests that would rather plunder the earth than protect it merit far more than a Best of Phoenix award. One day, your grandkids will thank Bahr for her work.

Can you believe Arizona was the only one of 33 states that required no testing at all of its legal cannabis products? Of course you can. Yet surprisingly, the Arizona Legislature fixed that situation this year. Why is that surprising? Because Arizona's actually a weed-hating state, and the Republican majority in the Legislature have been loath to do anything kind for the cannabis community. Their change of heart can't be fully explained by savvy politicking. With recreational marijuana now legal in 11 states and Washington, D.C., and medical marijuana in 33 states, even hard-nosed local GOP members know pot will be in their future, like it or not. So, they finally gave in to common sense and created SB 1494, a bill that sets up a new testing system intended to protect patients. After the law goes live in November 2020, independent labs overseen by the state will test dispensary weed for potency and contaminants like mold. But it gets better: The new law makes medical marijuana cards good for two years instead of one — so, half off the normal price of $150 per year. And you thought all pot laws were bad.

The anxiety before this year's ruling on marijuana concentrates in Rodney Christopher Jones v. State of Arizona by the Arizona Supreme Court probably brought in business for local therapists. The stakes hardly could have been higher: If the state's highest court had ruled against concentrates, nothing less than the crumbling of the dispensary industry and suffering of the program's most ill patients would have been the result. The agonizing wait began after the state Court of Appeals ruled in June 2018 that the state's medical marijuana program didn't cover products containing resin extracted from marijuana, and that it had been just fine for medical marijuana patient Rodney Christopher Jones to serve two years in prison for something he bought at a state-licensed dispensary. In theory, that ruling made illegal some of the most popular products sold in dispensaries, like vape-pen cartridges, shatter and hashish, and infused edibles. Business owners and nearly 200,000 patients continued to sell, buy, and use the extracted-resin products, but they feared the worst. On May 28, however, the Supreme Court went for concentrates like a hardcore stoner who hasn't seen his dabbing rig for a month. The justices voted 7-0 that, duh, the 2010 medical marijuana law's protections extended to all forms of marijuana. The dispensaries and patients were psyched — picture the final scene in Star Wars: A New Hope, when everyone's cheering and the Death Star's in pieces.

Bob Huhn is so helpful it's almost shocking, especially once a reporter becomes conditioned by futile efforts to get answers from state agencies, certain people at the city of Phoenix, and Governor Doug Ducey's office. Call Huhn, and he picks up the phone and is eager to answer questions. Email him, and he'll call you directly. Huhn can get a few air-quality experts on the line with you in the next couple of hours to answer any and all of your detailed questions about air pollution, like what ozone, PM2.5, and PM10 really are. He is sincere and eager but not simpering, and he's been known, on occasion, to take the liberty of filing public records requests on behalf of reporters. We wish every public information officer would be as responsive and dedicated as Huhn.

Short and to the point, devoid of unnecessary frills, The Breakdown is essential listening for commuters who want to stay informed on the latest developments at the Arizona State Capitol. Every Wednesday morning, Arizona Capitol Times' plugged-in hosts, ahem, break down the issues of the week with clarity and humor. Whether they're explaining the nuances of the drought contingency plan or walking through the rapid-fire developments in the David Stringer saga, the podcast team has a knack for filling listeners in on complex issues without making them feel stupid. On top of all that, the intro music is refreshingly pleasant for a news podcast.

Jon Talton is actually based in Seattle, but the fourth-generation Arizonan is a former columnist for the Arizona Republic, and his writing in his Rogue Columnist blog reflects a thorough, insightful knowledge of the players and dynamics of this city and state. He still gets the occasional scoop, and he writes lovely, elegiac remembrances of the Phoenix that used to be, catching the finer human points of how the Valley has morphed and expanded over the years. He pulls no punches — only "fools" go hiking in a Phoenix summer, he writes in disgust — and the scope of Rogue Columnist is expansive. This "pen warmed up in hell" tackles climate change, heat, train stations, the newspaper industry, and many other subjects, but it never lectures or grows too bitter. Instead, his blog posts are often a fusion of personal recollections and critical reflections on the small- and large-scale changes that will continue to mold Phoenix in the years to come.

Created in 2015 by Governor Doug Ducey, the task force was his way of telling voters he's doing something about illegal immigration, which many Republican voters see as a huge problem. The state reportedly has spent $82 million on the task force since then, and this year it got an $11 million boost that will include the hiring of several new troopers. Yet, if the border strike task force does anything that the state doesn't already expect the Arizona Department of Public Safety to do, that would be unusual. As the Arizona Republic and New Times have found out, the program does little beyond act as Ducey's propaganda tool. Statistics detailing the task force's alleged successes borrow from the work of other law enforcement agencies, research shows. Fewer than 18 percent of the cases it works on involve drug smuggling or organized crime. That is, if a police agency stops a semitruck and finds a pound of meth on the driver, the task force might list it under its tally for drugs seized for the year. But this sort of smoke-and-mirrors crime-fighting program is just what you'd expect of one created by a politician. More criminals likely would get busted if the program wasn't so focused on trying to make Ducey look good.

Although its greatest offenses took place in 2014, only in 2019 did the largest electric utility in the state and its parent company, Pinnacle West, finally cop to dumping more than $130 million in customer dollars into political spending, charitable contributions, marketing and advertising, lobbying, and sponsorships from 2013 to 2018. Arizonans were disgusted but unsurprised when the utility disclosed, under threat of subpoena, that it had indeed secretly poured tens of millions in dark money into the 2014 Corporation Commission race. That money contributed to the victories of APS's preferred candidates, who were then tasked with regulating the utility and deciding how much it could charge captive customers for electricity. The utility hasn't drawn the line at trying to buy its regulators, though. It has also been under federal investigation since at least 2016 over its involvement in the 2014 Arizona Secretary of State's race. With this particular investigation, the utility promises, it is fully cooperating with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Gail Griffin and Chris Sevier are a match made in a heaven where porn doesn't exist, everyone is fully clothed at all times, and no one ever thinks an impure thought. That sounds an awful lot like Utah, where Sevier once tried to marry his laptop as he strongly implied that gay marriage was just as ridiculous. The anti-gay activist came up with an anti-porn idea this year as his latest stunt, and spread it like a disease through 18 states, including Arizona. Griffin signed on as Sevier's political soulmate, introducing HB 2444 in January. The bill would have required electronic devices in Arizona to be fitted with software that would block all internet porn. To remove the block, you'd have to be over 18 and pay $20. The money would go to something called the John McCain Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Fund, and this new fund's No. 1 priority would have been to help build Donald Trump's border wall between the United States and Mexico. Even for the red, Trump-supporting state of Arizona, this was mad-genius-level legislation. Griffin soon pulled her bill from consideration after nationwide ridicule.

Public officials never admit to anything, even when they get caught. Journalists, by contrast, are in it for the story. Writers may produce a book, like David Carr's Night of the Gun. TV reporter Bryan West of Channel 12 (KPNX-TV) decided to take up writing after serving nine days in jail for extreme DUI and failing to obey police commands. The burst of literary prowess for the reporter, who typically covers morning practice by high school bands, debuted on social media, naturally. In the 3,200-word essay, West apologizes for his actions and describes how he lived a double life as a hardcore alcoholic for "too many years," often drinking until he blacked out. He relates how his drunk and reckless driving led to his arrest that fateful night in August 2018. Yeah, we heard he left out some key details. But the deeply personal mea culpa on Facebook, set to public, was well received by USA Today's editor and hundreds of other journalists and well-wishers. West still hasn't returned to his on-air job at Channel 12. With luck, he's pursuing a less self-destructive lifestyle.

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