Our Daily Planet: Midterm Election Watch On Arizona, Plus a Quick News Roundup
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

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We all can make a difference – especially in the midterm races that will mean the difference between candidates who make climate change and environmental conservation a priority and those who are working against it.  Please help The Last Weekend to Get Out The Vote (GOTV) in these last crucial weeks before the Nov. 6th election. There are several crucial races in Arizona (see below) that NEED YOUR HELP.   Please click here if you’re able to volunteer!   Share this link with your friends too — see how many you can recruit to help!  

 What Are The Issues? Why Arizona Matters

Today, Our Daily Planet focuses on Arizona, a state that President Trump won in 2016 by under 100,000 votes, and it has been trending toward the Democrats in recent years.  Arizona, once an epicenter of the conservative movement, is now a pivotal swing state as its demographics shift. The state will become a majority-minority by 2030 as Arizona’s Latino population steadily grows and these voters tend to vote Democratic. And, as a desert state with rising average temperatures, Arizona is especially susceptible to climate change. 

What’s surprising is that, according to the Arizona Republic, the subject of human-caused climate change has been largely absent from the stump speeches, debates and tweets in the midterm campaigns.  Polls have shown that climate change is a concern for a majority of Arizonans. In a statewide survey of 800 people last year, 69 percent agreed with the statement that “the state government needs to do more to combat climate change.” Arizona is America’s sunniest state but today, just 6% of Arizona’s electricity comes from solar power. With the passage of Prop 127, which mandates 50% renewable power by 2030, Arizona would change that.  

One other key for Arizona — if the House of Representatives flips to Democratic control, then Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva will become arguably the most powerful Member of Congress on environment and conservation issues because he would take over as Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee.  What would that mean, in his own words:  “I want to change the narrative of this whole thing,” says Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. “Where the Resources Committee isn’t just a passive part of the Trump administration, that they’re independent and that they have a responsibility as co-equals for oversight and accountability.”


 Environmental Threats

In Arizona, the climate change related one-two punch of higher temperatures and drought are likely to increase the severity, frequency, and extent of environmental challenges that will harm property, livelihoods, and human health in the state.  But there are other challenges too.

: On average, more than 2 percent of the land in Arizona has burned per decade since 1984. The combination of more fires and drier conditions may expand deserts and otherwise change parts of Arizona’s landscape and may make the forests more susceptible to invasive species. Many plants and animals living in arid lands are already near the limits of what they can tolerate and a warmer and drier climate will extend the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts to higher elevations and expand their geographic ranges.  

Drought: The Colorado River supports 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland in the U.S. and Mexico. Water from the Colorado River is stored in two large reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, but now the water in those reservoirs is at alarmingly low level thus making proper management of the river’s water more critical than ever. The federal government’s water managers say that Lake Mead is more than 50% likely to have a shortage of water by 2020.  And while the seven states that all are dependent upon the Colorado River for water recently came to a tentative agreement for water management, U.S. government action is needed to approve it. 

Border Wall:  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued itself a waiver allowing it to ignore dozens of environmental laws in order to build the wall along the border between the United States and Mexico, but environmental groups sued the Administration last week challenging the waivers.  These same groups have argued that the border wall will hinder wildlife migration thereby threatening many endangered species, and that before it is built, the environmental impacts of the wall need to be studied.  

Insufficient National Park Funding:  Grand Canyon National Park unfortunately suffers from the same maintenance backlog issues as all the less popular parks, thereby threatening the park and its natural resources.  According to the Pew Trusts, in 2017 the park had a deferred maintenance backlog of $372 million, with more than $150 million required to fix the 16-mile pipeline that brings water from a spring on the North Rim to the South Rim and is the sole source of potable water for park visitors, local residents, and concession operations. To fix all of the park’s well-worn trails would cost $33 million, nearly $30 million is needed for roads, and $11 million for camping areas, picnic shelters, and at scenic overlooks.  

 Climate Change Threats

Extreme heat is a problem that is becoming increasingly troubling as average high temperatures continue to climb. The National Weather Service says Phoenix has hit 100 degrees or more on 120 days so far this year. To put it in perspective, 2017 had 109 days of 100 degrees or more. And 2016 only had 99 days. As global average temperatures rise, desert states like Arizona face the risk of becoming so hot that they’re uninhabitable by 2050 due to climate change. Already, this extreme heat is causing deaths because the human body isn’t capable of being exposed to temperatures over 100° for an extended period of time. Last year there were a record 172 heat-related deaths in the Phoenix area.

Water Shortages: The EPA has indicated that as the climate warms, less precipitation falls as snow, and more snow melts during the winter.  This leads to decreased water supplies and can shorten the winter ski season. Most jarring however is that hotter than average temperatures will increase the need for water but will reduce its supply. Annual precipitation has decreased in Arizona during the last century, and it may continue to decrease as a result of climate change. This means that soils are likely to be drier, and periods without rain are likely to become longer, making droughts more severe.

Food Security for Indigenous Communities: Climate change threatens natural resources and public health of tribal communities. Rising temperatures and increasing drought are likely to decrease the availability of certain fish, game, and wild plants on which the Navajo and other tribes have relied for generations. Water may also be less available for domestic consumption, especially for those who are not served by either municipal systems or reliable wells, which includes about 30 percent of the people on the Navajo Nation, who must haul water to meet daily needs. 

 Green Job Opportunities

Photo: AZ Big Media
When it comes to renewable energy, solar far outpaces wind in Arizona. According to SEIA, Arizona is one of the sunniest states and has huge potential for its solar market. While the Arizona solar industry has tremendous growth opportunity, due to public debates about the benefits of solar, the imposition of a net metering charge in 2014 and elimination of incentives has made the market turbulent. In short, the state doesn’t come close to utilizing its solar potential, which can be changed by electing candidates that support renewable energy and through current ballot measures in the state. What’s most startling is that while over the last five years, solar jobs have grown 9 times faster than the U.S. economy as a whole, but Arizona has actually lost solar jobs.​
Current Solar Jobs: 8,381

 What Can Be Done?

Upcoming Ballot Measure: Arizona’s ballot initiative Prop 127 will gradually increase the amount of Arizona’s energy that comes from renewable sources like solar and wind to 50% by 2030. Not only would the expanded use of solar and other renewable energy save Arizona residents on their power bills but it would also go a long way in cleaning up the air and improving public health. Arizona has four counties—Maricopa, Pinal, Yuma, and Gila—that the American Lung Association gives an ‘F’ grade for air quality. And air pollution worsens suffering from asthma, a disease that afflicts one of every twelve Arizona children.

Arizona’s lead utility, Pinnacle West Corporation, is working hard to defeat Prop 127 and has raised $22.1 million to fight it.  They argue that Prop 127 will drive up the costs of power for consumers.  NextGen Climate Action is running a campaign called Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona in support of Prop 127 and has raised $18.5 million in support of it.  When ALL the costs of air pollution including the costs of Arizona’s poor air quality are taken into account, renewable energy is much less costly to Arizonans, and Prop 127 will also lower energy bills for consumers.  

What You Can Do:  To learn more or pledge your support for Prop 127, click here.  

The Environmental Voter Project is actively working to get voters who prioritize the environment to the polls. They are completely non-partisan and volunteering with them is as easy as using your phone to text GOTV reminders. Sign their Environmental Voter Pledge here or sign up to volunteer here

 Who’s Willing To Do Something About It?

From L-R clockwise: House candidates, Tom O’Halleran, Ann Kirkpatrick, Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema, AG candidate January Contreras
House Races: There are two very close House races in Arizona where your help could make the difference between electing a candidate that understands the climate-related challenges the state faces or one refuses to lead on the issue.
  • Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01), help volunteer for his campaign here
  • Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-02), help volunteer for her campaign here
Kirkpatrick’s stance on AZ environmental issues:

“It is our duty to protect and preserve these [Arizona’s natural places] for our children and for generations to come. Arizona’s natural resources are also key economic engines – particularly in rural areas – and bring much-needed jobs to our state. Ann believes we must fight global climate change and reduce our carbon footprint before it is too late. She strongly supports developing a wide range of alternative energy sources in Arizona to create 21st-century jobs and free America from its dependence on foreign oil.”

O’Halleran’s stance on Trump withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement:

“Climate change is a serious economic and national security threat to the United States. The U.S. should be leading the world toward responsible solutions to overcome this crisis, not taking a backseat with Nicaragua and Syria. We can actively address climate change around the globe, while providing American workers the training and opportunities for good-paying jobs. Arizona, in particular, is vulnerable to the effects of climate change. For the future of Arizona, the U.S., and our world, we must show leadership on climate change now.”

Senate: Current Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema is facing a neck and neck race against current Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally. In a recent debate, McSally completely avoided answering a question about climate change and what she would do if elected to office to combat it. In the same debate, Sinema emphasized coordinated and bipartisan action on climate change with neighboring states especially when it comes to Arizona’s water resources. Sinema has worked in her capacity in the House of Representatives to introduce bipartisan bills that helps further develop renewable energy in Arizona and supports federal subsidies for AZ solar while McSally does not. You can sign up to volunteer for Kyrsten Sinema’s campaign here.  

Attorney General Race: Democrat January Contreras is facing off against current Republican state Attorney General Mark Brnovich in one of the most expensive AG races ever. The race has gotten so much attention because Attorney General Mark Brnovich put his thumb on the scale to help Arizona Public Service in its mega-million-dollar campaign to defeat a proposal to boost Arizona’s renewable-energy requirements. Brnovich’s office added language to the explanatory portion of Proposition 127 on the Nov. 6 ballot that said utilities would need to meet the clean-energy requirements “irrespective of cost to consumers.” This language that  Brnovich helped add in is deceptive and makes it seem like a vote for clean energy means a vote for a higher energy bill--which has not been the case in neighboring Colorado which had a recent mandate requiring 55% renewable energy which would end up SAVING ratepayers money. What’s most noteworthy is the Arizona Public Service (the state’s largest utility) has donated $150,000 to Brnovich’s campaign after this favor. This prompted megadonor Tom Steyer to put $3.5 million into adds to back Prop 127 and help renewable energy prosper in Arizona. 

 Early Voting In Arizona 

Early voting in Arizona has already begun!  To obtain a ballot to vote early there, or to help someone who lives there obtain one, click here to sign up.  

 Environmental News Roundup

Kids Climate Lawsuit Protest    Photo: Robin Loznak
Supreme Super Bummer.  Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts late last Friday put the Kids Climate lawsuit on hold temporarily to “allow” the children who brought the suit to respond to a request by the Trump Administration to throw out the case – they must respond by Wednesday.  

Austin’s Gotta Boil:  For the first time in its history, residents of the city of Austin, Texas must boil their water to decontaminate it after a flood last week (caused by unusually heavy rains) filled its water treatment facilities with sludge, which are now, according to National Public Radio, only functioning at 33% of their typical capacity and city officials don’t know how long it will go on.

Farms Over Fish:  The Sacramento Bee (and many other news outlets) reported that President Trump signed a new Executive Order on Friday pushing the Interior Department to find ways to send more water into the Central Valley of California for agriculture, which would override the Endangered Species Act and lead to fewer protections for endangered salmon and Delta smelt in California; and at the same time the order mandated a faster review of water rules in the Klamath Irrigation Project in Oregon and the Columbia River Basin project in Washington state.

Watch Out, Here Comes Willa:  The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang reported yesterday that Hurricane Willa will hit Mexico and then its remnants could create a significant fall storm may along the East Coast late this week — Willa is now a Category 5 Hurricane, forecast to hit Mexico’s west coast today. 
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