Talking Trash

Welcome to Bizarro World," said assistant state attorney general Mitchell Klein near the beginning of his address to the Arizona Association of Industries on August 14.

Last year, in a panel discussion on whether environmental regulation in Arizona is excessive and harmful to industry, Klein argued in favor of the environment. This year, the association's powers decided--as a spoof or an academic exercise--to have the participants reverse roles. Klein, who specializes in environmental enforcement, took the contrary position.

His Seinfeldesque evoking of Bizarro World, the strange land found only in Superman comics, where people say goodbye when they mean hello and Superman is evil, couldn't have been more apt.

Consider, for example, that the day's program began with AAI's Environmental Recognition Awards, presented to "four Arizona legislators balancing the need for environmental protections while preserving the free market system": senators Rusty Bowers, Pat Conner and Marc Spitzer and Representative Carolyn Allen. Bowers was the only one who showed up to claim his award, and, as a gesture of appreciation, he told a joke that was funny but apropos of nothing.

Environmentalism, it seems, is a matter of perspective. Looking up the proud awardees on the Sierra Club's Environmental Report Card, one finds that Allen and Conner got Cs, Spitzer a D and Bowers an F for their environmental contributions. Then again, as one of the speakers said, the Sierra Club is just a "so-called environmental group."

The Arizona Association of Industries is a so-called manufacturing group that claims to represent more than 600 companies and 350,000 employees. This was its seventh annual Environmental Summit, and many of its participants were technical and scientific consultants who do environmental remediation, write environmental-impact statements and otherwise try to keep their clients in compliance with the law.

"AAI's mission," as Nancy Russell, the organization's president and CEO, pointed out, "is to enhance the climate for manufacturing in Arizona."

How fitting, then, that the first speaker talked about just how much hot air is this notion of global warming. He warned about the vagueness and unenforceable provisions of the Kyoto Treaty, an international agreement aimed at preventing global warming, and ranted about the millions of dollars it would waste, the jobs lost--which prompted one cranky scientist in the audience to stand up and ask, "Given all the uncertainties of the treaty, how can you be so precise about how much it will cost?"

Hem, haw.
Fortunately, the day's main speaker, William Perry Pendley, president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, was able to set matters straight with some anecdotes about how cold last winter was as proof that the world can't possibly be heating up.

Pendley is an archtheorist of the antienvironmental world. He juts his jaw and cranes his neck in a vaguely William F. Buckley-like manner, which makes him look as if his conservative necktie is just a bit too tight. Everyone in the audience knew exactly where he was going when he favorably evoked the name of U.S. Representative J.D. Hayworth at the start of his talk.

Hayworth, according to Pendley, had received from a constituent a tee shirt that read "If two kids can have sex in the backseat of a car, why does a spotted owl need 5,000 acres?" He put it on one morning to go jogging and happened to pass the president and his entourage jogging in the other direction ("going to McDonald's," Pendley quipped). Hayworth jutted out his chest for the president to see, then raced to a phone to call the constituent who had given him the shirt and tell him that he had run his message past the president.

Then Pendley settled into a set-piece speech, bringing up the same three Supreme Court cases in which the government had tried to take people's private property and lost. He talked about the poor Western sheep rancher who'd gotten in trouble for shooting a grizzly bear in self-defense, about how people are more important than other species. He wondered aloud if declaring certain fly species endangered would mean that Denny's would be deemed critical habitat. He pointed out that the Unabomber had a copy of Al Gore's book on the environment among his possessions in his Montana cabin. Then, as he left the podium, he and David Kirchner, chairman of AAI's science and environment committee, traded jokes about what spotted owls taste like. The funniest thing about that was how many of the conference attendees seemed never to have heard such an old joke before. They repeated it with glee in the men's room after Pendley's speech was done.

Klein was next up.
"You're not going to win a debate in front of this crowd on environmentalism," Klein says, so he took the offensive offensive. His "Bizarro World" speech seemed a shrill and comic parody of Pendley's vision of doom.

"If people want to breathe poisoned air and drink poisoned water, let them," he cried.

It's a market choice, after all: "If people in Phoenix don't want to breathe clean air, move.

"When people start dropping in the streets and you can prove it's a specific chemical, then we'll do something.

"The bottom line is, anyone should be able to dump any poison they want. . . . It's my property, I should be able to poison it. That's somewhere in the Constitution. They should pay me."

And, finally, there should be no fuss about contaminants in the environment, because the human body should be able to adapt to the pollution.

"I'm sure it's cheaper to create genetically superior people than to clean up all that stuff."

When asked later if he had been nervous about his joking message so soon after Pendley left the room, Klein answered, "He was giving me material."

Contact Michael Kiefer at his online address: [email protected]

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Michael Kiefer