Sierra Club report card lauds environmental funding, laments climate inaction

The Sierra Club report card on the Arizona Legislature said it was “nice to see some funding go toward protecting land and water” in the state budget, but that state lawmakers missed many opportunities to improve the environment. While it gave many lawmakers failing grades, it credited Gov. Katie Hobbs’ work in her first year. (File photo by Emma VandenEinde/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter Wednesday released its fall 2023 Environmental Report Card for the Arizona Legislature and Governor, and though the organization gave a majority of the state’s legislators negative marks for climate inaction, it praised the state budget’s climate initiatives.

The quarterly report examines Arizona legislators’ voting records in environmental protection issues. Most Arizona Republican legislators received low grades for failing to fund initiatives geared toward transportation, groundwater pumping and protecting bodies of water.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the focus of the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund and funding distribution for the Arizona State Parks Board. The story here has been corrected, but clients who used previous versions of the story are asked to run the correction found here.

Though the Sierra Club was encouraged by some of the initiatives that were successfully passed, the report card said more needed to be done to fully address climate problems facing Arizona.

“Not surprisingly, the Legislature refused to even consider the major environmental issues facing our state,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, during a news conference. “There was no action on climate or climate resiliency, no action on environmental justice, no real actions to address groundwater pumping or protect our rivers and streams.”

She described the 2023 legislative session as “another session of missed opportunities to act on climate, better protect our waters, advance environmental justice, and improve air quality.”

Sierra Club says state budget should go further

The Sierra Club’s environmental report card highlighted a number of climate-focused provisions in the state budget bill, SB 1720.

More than $35 million is dedicated to water quality and statewide water resources planning funds. The intent of both initiatives is to locate and deliver clean water to the state’s 7.4 million residents.

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The funding for state water is crucial, said Bahr, because the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s 2021 audit was one of the worst she’s seen “relative to an environmental agency and specifically regarding its implementation of water programs.”

Another measure includes $9 million to pay for economic transition resources within 20 miles of the Kayenta coal mine on the Navajo Nation, which closed in 2019. Funds will be dedicated to starting renewable energy and broadband projects.

The Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund, which provides grant opportunities for trail projects; outdoor environmental education programs; local, regional and state parks; and historic preservation projects, was given $6 million in state funding. The Arizona Trail Fund was given $500,000. The Arizona State Parks Board received nearly $32 million.

Another $3.5 million was designated to preserve Glassford Dells Regional Park, and $300,000 will be used to purchase trees for public schools.

“We still have a long way to go to adequately fund environmental protection,” the report said, adding that the money from SB 1720 was “small compared to many programs in which the Legislature invests.”

Legislators fail to address major transportation issues

The Sierra Club’s continued hope for more transportation funding was not answered by the budget bill or other measures.

“The majority in the Arizona Legislature sought to put a stop to light rail expansion and really any substantial funding for transit, bicycle and pedestrian safety or anything that did not involve concrete or asphalt,” the report said.

The Sierra Club focuses on transportation initiatives at both the national and state levels. A statement on the national organization’s website reads: “We can tackle the climate crisis and clean up our air by shifting to pollution-free vehicles, accessible public transit, and making our communities more walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly.”

The Grand Canyon chapter also highlighted $12.5 million for electric charging/advanced fuel infrastructure administration and transportation, and $3.5 million for the passenger rail service planning fund.

But the organization was critical of Arizona’s transportation funding overall. According to the report card, multiple legislators pushed for “anti-transit, anti-bike measures.”

“The Legislature has never been particularly friendly to transit, but this year seemed to be really unfriendly,” Bahr said. “The fact that it was so difficult to get a bill through to allow Maricopa County to do a tax for transportation, I think said it all.”

Gov. Katie Hobbs graded ‘A’ for ‘significant defensive actions’

The club grades legislators and the governor each year on action related to climate and environmental bills.

Gov. Katie Hobbs received a grade of ‘A’ in the environmental report card after she vetoed 11 of 13 Senate bills the Sierra Club deemed environmentally irresponsible.

In June, Hobbs created the Phoenix Active Management Area Groundwater Model with the intent of securing the Valley’s water sources for the foreseeable future. In July, she announced that Arizona would enter the U.S. Climate Alliance to reduce harmful pollution.

“She did really well in her first year as governor dealing with a very difficult Legislature,” Bahr said. “So I don’t think anyone could argue that there aren’t some challenges there.”

Bahr specifically praised Hobbs’ establishment of the Governor’s Resiliency Office in January, which was created with the purpose of “securing our water supply and advancing a clean energy economy,” according to the governor’s website.

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“Without that office, Arizona would not be able to really take advantage of a lot of the benefits that are in the Inflation Reduction Act,” Bahr said. “Arizona will get its fair share of the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act and really do our part to help reduce emissions.”

Vania Guevara, advocacy deputy director for Chispa Arizona, said Hobbs’ team has helped with community outreach. Chispa is a nonprofit committed to organizing civic engagement for environmental justice, specifically within the Latino communities. Guevara, who has worked with Chispa for over a year, said Hobbs made it easier for Chispa to organize climate change initiatives.

“Given the limitations that the governor may have had with the Legislature, she and her team went above and beyond to make sure that they did everything they could to make sure our members were heard,” Guevara said.

Report criticizes Republican inaction on climate change

In the three most recent annual report cards, there have been more politicians, mostly Republicans, who received an ‘F’ grade than an ‘A’ grade.

“They did nothing to address climate change,” Bahr said of the Republican caucus. “They very seldom even talk about it, or if they do it is in a way that is disparaging or dismissive.”

Bahr said by and large, Arizonans understand that climate change is real and is affecting the population. She said state residents are looking for leaders to do something but haven’t been able to find it in the Republican politicians.

“They are out of step with Arizonans,” Bahr said.

The environmental report card named 32 “Earth Protectors” to its list of the most active environmental initiative supporters in the House and the Senate, up from 18 last year.

News Reporter, Phoenix

Zach Bradshaw expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minors in sociology and economics. Bradshaw is an intern at The Arizona Republic and is news director at Blaze Radio.