Governor change could shift state's climate policies
by Ginger D. Richardson - Nov. 26, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
If Gov. Janet Napolitano heads to Washington to serve in President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet, it could portend a major shift in policy for one of her biggest local priorities: climate change.
Environmental groups, elected officials and other political watchers say that a new Republican administration, under the helm of now-Secretary of State Jan Brewer, would likely significantly reduce Arizona's involvement in the Western Climate Initiative.
Napolitano was a founding member of the regional effort, which brings several Western states and a handful of Canadian provinces together to limit and reduce man-made greenhouse gases, among other things.
Although all the WCI partners have signed off on the concept of emission reductions through a cap-and-trade system, each state is responsible for passing its own laws and rewriting its own regulations to accomplish goals.
"From an environmental perspective, if she leaves, I think we are in big trouble," said Sandy Bahr, who lobbies the state Legislature in behalf of the Sierra Club's Arizona chapter. "I think probably the greatest disappointment is that if she is leaving early, some of the things she's done will be undone in no time."
Over the past six years, Napolitano has worked with - and, in many cases, done battle with - legislators and industry on a host of environmental initiatives, including:
• Forest restoration. This includes efforts to minimize and prevent future forest fires through thinning and controlled burns.
• Clean air. Napolitano pushed for and ultimately signed into law a wide-ranging bill that limited the use of leaf blowers, placed new restrictions on the construction industry and called for the paving of vacant lots and road shoulders in an effort to reduce particulates in the air.
• Reduced tailpipe emissions. In an unpopular move, the governor gave the state's Department of Environmental Quality broad authority to write new rules requiring new cars, light trucks and SUVs sold in Arizona to emit lower levels of carbon dioxide and other contaminants linked to global warming. The rules have not yet taken effect, pending the outcome of a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which blocked California from adopting similar standards.
But although Napolitano has frequently used the Governor's Office as a platform for advancing eco-friendly initiatives, perhaps none has caused as much controversy, particularly at the state Legislature, as her support of the regional climate initiative.
Critics, which include both business interests and Republican legislators, say the governor has been putting the state's economy at risk by pushing the group's climate-change goals.
"That is the one area that makes us the most nervous, where we are the most unhappy . . . or concerned is probably the best way to put it," said Marc Osborn, a lobbyist for the Arizona Manufacturer's Council.
Osborn said some of the WCI's stated goals, including reducing fossil-fuel consumption by making it more expensive, will mean higher energy costs for consumers.
And if the cost of doing business here increases, that could drive companies out of the state, Osborn said.
Although Brewer, who will replace Napolitano if the governor departs, is not yet willing to talk about her agenda, others are already speculating that she might proceed differently from the Democratic governor.
"As far as what I know about Jan Brewer, I would say she is probably not going to go along with (the WCI)," said Republican Rep. Ray Barnes, who serves as chairman of the House Environment Committee, adding that other priorities, such as dealing with the state's billion-dollar budget deficit, would likely be higher on the new governor's to-do list.
If that's the case, it could mean that Brewer and any appointees at the Environmental Quality Department could choose not to author new rules limiting greenhouse gases. Business backers say they are hopeful that Brewer would provide a sympathetic ear.
"We'd much prefer to see international cooperation on issues like this," said Ann Seiden, spokeswoman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. "Looking at everything through an economic lens is especially needed right now, and that is something that we would encourage the governor or her successor ... to do."
Seiden said the Chamber has not yet had any direct conversations with Brewer on the WCI or other environmental policies or issues but said, "I think we have a great relationship with (her)."
Republic reporter Shaun McKinnon contributed to this article.
Change the "If Gov. Janet Napolitano heads to Washington to serve in President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet," to "when", as occurred today, and you have worrying news for environmentalists here in Arizona.