News

THE POLLUTION ALL-STARS

Page 2 of 8

Jim Lemmon agrees. Lemmon served as DEQ's first hydrologist hired to do groundwater regulation, but he left the department in 1983 "because they chose not to do enforcement." Now an environmental consultant, he continues to work with DEQ, and says, "It's been my opinion over a decade now that their enforcement has been very, very poor."

So why are the Pollution All-Stars intent on taking the gums out of an already toothless agency?

Baron and Lemmon believe the furor over the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws designed to protect the environment has created a backlash aimed at any and all environmental regulation. Just as there's a myth that the Endangered Species Act has decimated rural communities, there's a myth that Arizona's Title 49 is overregulating industry.

The Chamber of Commerce may have written the bills, but lawmakers such as Jim Buster and the Pollution All-Stars have latched on to them with glee, proclaiming that the voters are demanding such legislation.

"There is a backlash to unrealistic regulation," Buster explains. "There is no doubt that there is a reaction to things that have been building up, say, since the Seventies."

Cummiskey doesn't get it. "[His colleagues] keep talking about this electoral mandate that they received during the last election, and I didn't hear anybody--in 14,000 houses, knocking door to door--say, 'Yeah, we think it's good to do away with all environmental oversight.'"

In fact, a 1992 survey by the Morrison Institute at Arizona State University revealed that when people were asked to choose between environmental preservation and economic growth, a four-to-one majority preferred environmental preservation. A large majority believed there is too little government regulation of the environment, and many respondents said they were altering their day-to-day activities to protect the environment. (Perhaps subversive surveys such as this one explain why conservative legislators are trying to slash funding for the Morrison Institute.)

And last month, the Behavior Research Center found that for the third year in a row, almost half of Arizona families reported that one or more members had negative reactions during times of high air pollution.

Few are willing to face the backlash. Raena Honan and Sandy Bahr, lobbyists for the Sierra Club and the Audubon Council, respectively, trudge to the Capitol every day to endure more abuse. Like DEQ's Fox, they're mocked or ignored. Honan--a conservative Republican--gets up at committee hearings, makes her speech about how environmental regulations protect the public, then sits back down to wait for the next bill.

If you're into bashing environmentalists, you'll have to take a number at the state Capitol. For those who care to keep track, here's a run-down of the Pollution All-Stars and just some of their pet projects.

Senator Jim Buster, Republican of Yuma. Office: 542-4139. Chairman, Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee.

Jim Buster's committee is a dream come true for industry lobbyists. It's composed mainly of conservative Republicans and rural Democrats, and it's a guaranteed launching pad for Chamber of Commerce bills.

Buster's admiration for extractive industries--especially the mines--might be explained in part by his financial disclosure statement, which shows he owns stock in Cyprus Minerals.

This session, Buster has joined Mesa Republican Senator Larry Chesley to sponsor one of the chamber's favorites, SB1290, the environmental audit bill. Critics call the bill a "Get Out of Jail Free Card."

Simply put, the bill would allow companies that conduct self-audits, disclose the findings to the Department of Environmental Quality and clean up the mess to escape penalty. DEQ's Fox doesn't mind that. What he does mind is the chamber's favorite provision--one that allows the polluter to keep the audit secret in most cases. That means those affected by the pollution would never know it. And in case they did find out about it, field notes, reports and other information from the audit--data needed to seek remedy under the law--would be unavailable. The media would be unable to review records and report on it.

The bill also called for a $10,000 penalty for whistle-blowers (read: conscientious government or corporate employees worried about the public welfare) who disclose the secrets. Amazingly, the Arizona Newspaper Association's lobbyist did not speak against SB1290. The audit bill is the cornerstone of the probusiness environmental backlash, and all of the heavy lobbyists were there to speak when it came before Buster's committee: Ken Quartermaine of Arizona Rock Products Association; Scott Butler of the Arizona Association of Industries; Jim Bush of--among others--Phelps Dodge; Jim Klinker of the Arizona Farm Bureau; and, of course, Chuck Shipley, vice president for public affairs, Arizona Chamber of Commerce.

Industry argues that the bill is good because it would encourage companies to monitor themselves and clean up pollution without the fear of penalties.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.