Where Have All the Tree-Huggers Gone?

It took months of delicate closed-door negotiations--spurred by the threat of an initiative, Burton Barr's desire for the governorship and Bruce Babbitt's hankering for the presidency--before Arizona got the 1986 Environmental Quality Act. Finally, industry and agriculture were restricted on what they could dump into the state's water supply, with hefty fines to punish those who didn't mind, far more heed to the pesticides used in the state, and three separate avenues to sue polluters.

But in only the last few weeks, polluters and their army of lobbyists have taken advantage of today's greatly weakened environmental community to mount a wholesale assault on every major point of that law. And they're being aided by the man supposedly hired by Gov. Rose Mofford to enforce it.

The situation has the environmental community--as loose and unorganized as it's ever been--in a frenzy. Leaders wonder why lawmakers who run on environmental platforms seem deaf and dumb about protection laws unless they're constantly reminded the polluters are wrong. They wonder why Mofford and her staff seemed to have wiped the environment off their agenda. Furthermore, they're more than suspicious about a new key player in this game: Randy Woods, director of the protection agency created by the 1986 law, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

It was Woods who authored legislation to limit the power of the Attorney General's Office to independently sue polluters--a cornerstone of the 1986 compromise. Furthermore, although Woods claims he never intended, his bill would have greatly limited the right of citizens to sue polluters if the state refuses to act. Woods argues that since the AG is the law firm for state agencies, it is he, as the client, who should determine when a lawsuit is filed. Industry and agriculture not only oppose the AG's independent power, but even lobbied to let DEQ have its own lawyers, not answerable to the elected attorney general. They clearly feel they would have better luck keeping their clients out of court if all they had to do was lean on the director of the state environmental agency.

Woods' bill also reduces the $25,000-a-day fine for certain groundwater violations to $10,000 a day, though it does increase some other fines. Industry representatives contend the stiff fine is unnecessary, with the lower one sufficient enough to ensure compliance. But the penalty, if somewhat draconian, was one of the points that environmentalists insisted upon for giving up some ground on what restrictions would be imposed on polluters.

The 1986 accord also required that the use of pesticides be monitored and restricted if they met certain criteria. Environmentalists inserted specific language that the state guidelines must be at least as strict as those of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Now Woods says that these criteria may just be too strict for Arizona and conditions here. So he proposed yet another bill to allow him to remove pesticides from the watch list.

But even Jack Bale, the agency's manager of environmental programs, admits he hasn't yet found a single pesticide that doesn't belong on the list. He just wants the power to change the list without bothering to ask legislative approval. Anyway, Bale argues, it costs too much to have to monitor wells and soil for all these pesticides. But he concedes that the agency chose to ask to trim the list rather than ask for more money to do the job right.

Both of Woods' bills made it out of the House of Representatives with hardly a peep, having been routinely approved by the newly created House Environment Committee, headed by Chandler Republican Bill Mundell. Mundell now is scurrying around the Senate trying to fix what should have been done in the first place, such as restoring the citizen lawsuit provision. "I didn't realize the bills had problems," Mundell says. "No one ever came to testify against them."

And there lies the major problem: The stalwarts of the 1986 environmental laws--some moved by sincerity, some by political expediency--aren't in the picture anymore.

Bruce Babbitt is gone. The former governor's presidential ambitions gave him new impetus to bang heads together during the closed-door negotiations in 1986 and create a law with something everyone hated yet could live with. As Babbitt left office, so did his staff, who could be counted on to carry water for the environmentalists. Furthermore, his assured veto of anti-environmental bills is also gone, with Mofford yet to be tested.

Also gone is Greg Lunn, the Tucson Republican who carried the environmental ball for so many years in the state Senate. He decided last year he couldn't support a wife and two children on his $15,000-a-year legislative salary. He's now a member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, which pays more than twice as much.

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Howard Fischer