Arizona and Native Tribes are in Trouble!
My Post is gonna be long so I decided to write it on my blog and send that way. Again I see another environmental law getting the beat down I had to get all the facts to paper it’s coming!
Let’s start with a little history.
Early in the 19th century, while the rapidly-growing United States expanded into the lower South, white settlers faced what they considered an obstacle. This area was home to the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole nations. These Indian nations, in the view of the settlers and many other white Americans, were standing in the way of progress. Eager for land to raise cotton, the settlers pressured the federal government to acquire Indian territory.
Andrew Jackson, from Tennessee, was a forceful proponent of Indian removal. In 1814 he commanded the U.S. military forces that defeated a faction of the Creek nation. In their defeat, the Creeks lost 22 million acres of land in southern Georgia and central Alabama. The U.S. acquired more land in 1818 when, spurred in part by the motivation to punish the Seminoles for their practice of harboring fugitive slaves, Jackson’s troops invaded Spanish Florida.
From 1814 to 1824, Jackson was instrumental in negotiating nine out of eleven treaties that divested the southern tribes of their eastern lands in exchange for lands in the west. The tribes agreed to the treaties for strategic reasons. They wanted to appease the government in the hopes of retaining some of their lands, and they wanted to protect themselves from white harassment. As a result of the treaties, the United States gained control over three-quarters of Alabama and Florida, as well as parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, and North Carolina. This was a period of voluntary Indian migration, however, and only a small number of Creeks, Cherokee and Choctaws moved to the new lands.
In 1823 the Supreme Court handed down a decision which stated that Indians could occupy lands within the United States, but could not hold title to those lands. This was because their “right of occupancy” was subordinate to the United States’ “right of discovery.” In response to the great threat this posed, the Creeks, Cherokee, and Chickasaw instituted policies of restricting land sales to the government. They wanted to protect what remained of their land before it was too late.
Although the five Indian nations had made earlier attempts at resistance, many of their strategies were non-violent. One method was to adopt Anglo-American practices such as large-scale farming, Western education, and slave-holding. This earned the nations the designation of the “Five Civilized Tribes.” They adopted this policy of assimilation in an attempt to coexist with settlers and ward off hostility. But it only made whites jealous and resentful.
Other attempts involved ceding portions of their land to the United States with a view to retaining control over at least part of their territory, or of the new territory, they received in exchange. Some Indian nations simply refused to leave their land — the Creeks and the Seminoles even waged war to protect their territory. The First Seminole War lasted from 1817 to 1818. The Seminoles were aided by fugitive slaves who had found protection among them and had been living with them for years. The presence of the fugitives enraged white planters and fueled their desire to defeat the Seminoles.
The Cherokee used legal means in their attempt to safeguard their rights. They sought protection from land-hungry white settlers, who continually harassed them by stealing their livestock, burning their towns, and squatting on their land. In 1827 the Cherokee adopted a written constitution declaring themselves to be a sovereign nation. They based this on United States policy; in former treaties, Indian nations had been declared sovereign so they would be legally capable of ceding their lands. Now the Cherokee hoped to use this status to their advantage. The state of Georgia, however, did not recognize their sovereign status but saw them as tenants living on state land. The Cherokee took their case to the Supreme Court, which ruled against them.
The Cherokee went to the Supreme Court again in 1831. This time they based their appeal on an 1830 Georgia law which prohibited whites from living on Indian territory after March 31, 1831, without a license from the state. The state legislature had written this law to justify removing white missionaries who were helping the Indians resist removal. The court this time decided in favor of the Cherokee. It stated that the Cherokee had the right to self-government, and declared Georgia’s extension of state law over them to be unconstitutional. The state of Georgia refused to abide by the Court decision, however, and President Jackson refused to enforce the law.
In 1830, just a year after taking office, Jackson pushed a new piece of legislation called the “Indian Removal Act” through both houses of Congress. It gave the president the power to negotiate removal treaties with Indian tribes living east of the Mississippi. Under these treaties, the Indians were to give up their lands east of the Mississippi in exchange for lands to the west. Those wishing to remain in the east would become citizens of their home state. This act affected not only the southeastern nations but many others further north. The removal was supposed to be voluntary and peaceful, and it was that way for the tribes that agreed to the conditions. But the southeastern nations resisted, and Jackson forced them to leave.
Jackson’s attitude toward Native Americans was paternalistic and patronizing — he described them as children in need of guidance. and believed the removal policy was beneficial to the Indians. Most white Americans thought that the United States would never extend beyond the Mississippi. Removal would save Indian people from the depredations of whites and would resettle them in an area where they could govern themselves in peace. But some Americans saw this as an excuse for a brutal and inhumane course of action and protested loudly against removal.
Their protests did not save the southeastern nations from removal, however. The Choctaws were the first to sign a removal treaty, which they did in September of 1830. Some chose to stay in Mississippi under the terms of the Removal Act. But though the War Department made some attempts to protect those who stayed, it was no match for the land-hungry whites who squatted on the Choctaw territory or cheated them out of their holdings. Soon most of the remaining Choctaws, weary of mistreatment, sold their land and moved west.
For the next 28 years, the United States government struggled to force the relocation of the southeastern nations. A small group of Seminoles was coerced into signing a removal treaty in 1833, but the majority of the tribe declared the treaty illegitimate and refused to leave. The resulting struggle was the Second Seminole War, which lasted from 1835 to 1842. As in the first war, fugitive slaves fought beside the Seminoles who had taken them in. Thousands of lives were lost in the war, which cost the Jackson administration approximately 40 to 60 million dollars — ten times the amount it had allotted for Indian removal. In the end, most of the Seminoles moved to the new territory. The few who remained had to defend themselves in the Third Seminole War (1855-1858) when the U.S. military attempted to drive them out. Finally, the United States paid the remaining Seminoles to move west.
The Creeks also refused to emigrate. They signed a treaty in March 1832, which opened a large portion of their Alabama land to white settlement, but guaranteed them protected ownership of the remaining portion, which was divided among the leading families. The government did not protect them from speculators, however, who quickly cheated them out of their lands. By 1835 the destitute Creeks began stealing livestock and crops from white settlers. Some eventually committed arson and murder in retaliation for their brutal treatment. In 1836 the Secretary of War ordered the removal of the Creeks as a military necessity. By 1837, approximately 15,000 Creeks had migrated west. They had never signed a removal treaty.
The Chickasaws had seen removal as inevitable and had not resisted. They signed a treaty in 1832 which stated that the federal government would provide them with suitable western land and would protect them until they moved. But once again, the onslaught of white settlers proved too much for the War Department, and it backed down on its promise. The Chickasaws were forced to pay the Choctaws for the right to live on part of their western allotment. They migrated there in the winter of 1837-38.
The Cherokee, on the other hand, were tricked with an illegitimate treaty. In 1833, a small faction agreed to sign a removal agreement: the Treaty of New Echota. The leaders of this group were not the recognized leaders of the Cherokee nation, and over 15,000 Cherokees — led by Chief John Ross — signed a petition in protest. The Supreme Court ignored their demands and ratified the treaty in 1836. The Cherokee were given two years to migrate voluntarily, at the end of which time they would be forcibly removed. By 1838 only 2,000 had migrated; 16,000 remained on their land. The U.S. government sent in 7,000 troops, who forced the Cherokees into stockades at bayonet point. They were not allowed time to gather their belongings, and as they left, whites looted their homes. Then began the march known as the Trail of Tears, in which 4,000 Cherokee people died of cold, hunger, and disease on their way to the western lands.
By 1837, the Jackson administration had removed 46,000 Native American people from their land east of the Mississippi and had secured treaties which led to the removal of a slightly larger number. Most members of the five southeastern nations had been relocated west, opening 25 million acres of land to white settlement and to slavery.
Within the Interior Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs handles some federal relations with Native Americans. Native American reservations are estimated to contain about a fifth of the nation’s oil and gas, along with vast coal reserves. In December 2016, a Trump advisory group put forth a plan to privatize Native American reservations to open them up to drilling and mining. Many Native Americans view such efforts as a violation of tribal self-determination and culture.
Trump’s transition team commissioned a Native American coalition to draw up a list of proposals to guide his Indian policy. According to a Reuters investigative report, “The backgrounds of the coalition’s leadership are one sign of its pro-drilling bent. At least three of four chair-level members have links to the oil industry.”
Toxic waste clean-up
In attempts to lift regulations on oil, mining, drilling, and farming industries, the Trump administration proposed a 31% budget cut to the EPA that would result in reduced initiatives to protect water and air quality, leaving much of the effort up to the states. Environmentalists fear that these cuts will result in health problems. EPA budget cuts are also expected to lead to decreased regulation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which would result in less federal oversight of clean-up projects in these areas.[
EPA Administer Scott Pruitt hired former Oklahoma banker Albert Kelly to head the Superfund program, which is responsible for cleaning up the nation’s most contaminated land. Kelly completely lacked any experience with environmental issues and had just received a lifetime ban from working in banking, his career until then.
Clean Water Rule/Clean Water Act
On February 28, 2017, President Trump enacted an executive order to allow the Administrator of the EPA to revise or rescind the Obama era Clean Water Rule, also referred to as Waters of the United States (WOTUS), in the name of economic growth and eliminating ambiguous regulations. The Obama rule placed pollution limits on about 60 percent of the nation’s bodies of water, protecting both large bodies of water and the tributaries, streams, and wetlands that drain into them. Research cited by the EPA shows that one in three Americans get their water from public drinking water systems which are partly sourced from streams protected by the Clean Water Rule. These streams may be in danger of pollution by industrial and agricultural waste, sewage, radioactive materials and a large number of other pollutants now covered by the Clean Water Rule. The Audubon Society has expressed concerns about a repeal of the Rule. They write on their website: “…the Trump administration’s intent is clear: to reverse Obama-era environmental protections no matter what, even if they have been effective at protecting avian and human life.”
On April 10, 2019, President Trump issued two executive orders aimed at boosting the production of fossil fuels by cutting back on regulations he sees as”unnecessary red tape”. The new regulations benefit energy companies by making it more difficult for states to block projects such as oil pipelines by using the Clean Water Act. Currently, under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, states can reject any project if they believe it could impact the state’s water. Under Trump’s order, any decisions related to permits will no longer be made by the State Secretary, but by the president.
On September 12, 2019, the Trump administration repealed the Clean Water Rule.
A new Trump administration plan to scale back a bedrock environmental law could affect all kinds of projects in the Northwest, including timber sales, hydroelectric dams, and large energy developments like the controversial Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas project with its 235-mile Pacific Connector pipeline.
Trump administration announced major changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations with the stated goal of accelerating the approval process for infrastructure projects.
The proposal’s critics in the Northwest say the new rules are undemocratic and illegal, and many are hoping they will be challenged in court and thrown out.
NEPA requires the federal government to review the environmental impacts of major projects before approving them. The reviews analyze projects’ impacts on air and water quality, wildlife, and other natural resources. They’re also required to consider alternatives that would have fewer impacts.
The administration’s regulatory changes put new time limits and page limits on the federal government’s environmental reviews, reduce opportunities for public input and allow some projects to be completely excluded from the review process. A new category of projects with “minimal federal funding or involvement” wouldn’t require any kind of environmental assessment.
While the regulations don’t change the law itself, they dramatically change how the law would be implemented by federal agencies.
In its announcement, the administration said the current NEPA regulations have hampered the approval of projects involving roads, bridges, airports, railways and waterways and that the changes will “modernize” the 50-year-old law so that new projects can be built in a “timely, efficient and affordable manner.”
U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., were quick to slam the proposal for excluding climate change as one of the environmental impacts agencies would need to consider under NEPA.
“NEPA has provided generations of Americans a say in federal decisions that impact the air we breathe, the water we drink and the public lands we cherish,” Cantwell said in a statement. “This NEPA rewrite favors big polluters and corporate profits overbalanced, science-based decision-making and would prevent Washingtonians from voicing their views.”
Tom Buchele, a professor of environmental law at Lewis and Clark Law School, said the new regulations make “anti-democratic changes” that will reduce the amount of information the government needs to disclose about its projects and discourage the public from participating in the environmental review process.
“No one likes to admit publicly that they’re going to do something that’s going to have a really adverse effect or is going to hurt the environment,” he said. “Agencies do change what they’re proposing because it looks like the impacts are going to be bad.”
Buchele said he was stunned to see that the new regulations eliminate the need for agencies to review the “cumulative effects” of their actions. That could exclude climate change considerations from NEPA reviews, he said, but it also would affect things like how the U.S. Forest Service reviews the environmental impacts of its timber sales on nearby watersheds.
If the agency has more than one timber sale in a watershed, NEPA would normally require the agency to review the cumulative impacts of all of its timber sales on that watershed.
“It prevents the agency from splitting things up and saying, ‘Well this thing that we’re doing here is not going to have an effect,’ when in fact they’re doing five things that together will have big impacts,” Buchele said.
The new regulations would also exempt confined animal feeding operations that have federal loans or loan guarantees, Buchele said, and they would introduce a bond requirement for anyone trying to get the court to halt a federal action.
“That’s huge,” he said. “If there’s a bond requirement imposed on small environmental groups it’s going to keep them from going into court.”
Buchele said the changes might not affect projects that have already gone through the NEPA process such as the Jordan Cove LNG project and Pacific Connector pipeline.
Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of the environmental nonprofit Columbia Riverkeeper, said NEPA is responsible for key government analyses of environmental impacts of oil and coal terminals proposed in the Northwest and dam operations in the Columbia River Basin. “By requiring agencies to disclose the impacts of these projects to the people, it leads to better decisions,” he said. “Sometimes it leads to projects changing. Sometimes it leads to projects being denied.”
VandenHeuvel said the Trump administration is trying to “gut” a fundamental right of Americans to know the impacts of government actions.
“The Trump administration clearly doesn’t want to disclose the impacts of oil and gas terminals or pipelines or other climate-wrecking proposals,” he said. “They would rather see industry have a free ride to do these projects without public involvement.”
VandenHeuvel said he thinks the new regulations are illegal and hopes they will be challenged in court and thrown out.
Buchele said he’s not so sure about that outcome.
“I hope that’s true,” Buchele said. “But Trump has done quite a job transforming the judiciary, and I think some of the judges he has put on the federal bench are not going to have a problem with this.”
When Donald Trump was elected president, environmentalists in Arizona were immediately on edge. Like other conservationists around the nation, they thought his federal appointments and policy positions were egregious.
Trump-appointed former Oklahoma attorney Scott Pruitt as mentioned previously, anti-Environmental Protection Agency warrior, to head the very agency he sued 13 times. Last June, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, with potential for increasing temperatures acutely in the Southwest. And environmental groups warn that Trump’s plans for a wall could be devastating for wildlife and public lands along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The environmental rollback at the federal level is especially troubling in Arizona, where the state government is keen on deregulation. Conservationists say state agencies prioritize commerce and industry groups over muscular protections for the environment. Although in the past the EPA served as a kind of backstop to an anti-regulatory state government, under the Trump administration, Arizona agencies and the Legislature may have a free hand.
“We’ve got so much here, and it seems like some of the people we elect are hell-bent on destroying it. That means that we have a lot of work to do,” Bahr said.
Bahr has led the Arizona Sierra Club for 20 years. When she was just a volunteer with the Sierra Club in 1992, Bahr helped lead a ballot initiative to reject a law on “regulatory takings” — the concept where Arizona would have to compensate people whose property was devalued by new rulemaking. Opponents described the measure as an underhanded attempt to stymie environmental regulations. The Sierra Club won — the law was defeated at the ballot box in 1994.
The experience made her realize the power of citizen initiatives, Bahr said. “I became a fan of those provisions in our Constitution where we can stop things by taking it out to the people and getting the signatures,” she said.
And if the past years under the Trump administration is any indication, there will be plenty of fights to be won and lost in the future.
As far as federal agencies go, the Department of the Interior is pretty dull. Previous heads of the department have been no-drama bureaucrats like the CEO of outdoor-gear store REI and the former attorney general of Colorado. The agency’s seal is a sleepy-looking bison.
But in fall 2017, an easily forgotten department became the focal point of intense controversy in western states like Arizona. It all began with an ominous proclamation on national monuments.
When Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to review more than two dozen national monuments created since 1996 under a 1906 law, the Antiquities Act. Trump said that creating these monuments amounted to an “egregious abuse of federal power.”
“Today, we are putting the states back in charge,” Trump said in his remarks before he signed the order.
Implementation of the review fell to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The brash former congressman from Montana rode a horse to the Interior Department for his first day of work while wearing a cowboy hat.
Four national monuments under Zinke’s review are located in Arizona: Grand Canyon-Parashant, Ironwood Forest, Sonoran Desert, and Vermillion Cliffs. In response to Trump’s order, Zinke submitted to the president a stark survey of national monuments he thought ought to be modified or reduced in size. Ultimately, the administration slashed two Utah monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, greatly reducing their boundaries.
As a result, the lands may be open for a number of new uses, including industry, recreation, or cattle grazing. Zinke left the other monuments on his list unchanged — for the time being. Conservationists began to refer to the monument review as “Zinke’s hit list.”
But some Arizona politicians were pleased to see the Interior Department apply scrutiny to the national monuments. Arizona Congressmen Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, and Trent Franks (now resigned) signed a letter with other House members that urged Zinke to eliminate or reduce various national monuments. The representatives recommended a “total rescission” of Arizona’s four national monuments on Zinke’s list.
In an email, Interior Department spokesperson Faith Vander Voort wrote that claims by environmentalists “are false and deliberately misleading.”
“The Secretary is opposed to the wholesale sale or transfer of federal land, and at no point did the monument review result in the sale or transfer of federal land,” Vander Voort wrote. “All land that was no longer within the monument boundary remained public land and is open for public use. The land and any cultural resources that may be contained on the land are still under strict federal protection.”
The Interior Department has no plans to revisit the four Arizona monuments that were included in the review, according to Vander Voort.
All the same, conservationists are concerned by the Department’s new direction.
Kierán Suckling, the founder of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, said that many threatened species of plants and animals depend on public lands. Opening up these areas to private interests puts them at risk, he says. After public lands leave the hands of the federal government, their fate can be hard to predict.
“Once those decisions are made, they’re very difficult to reverse,” Suckling said. “And so the Trump administration has the power to set in motion the destruction of tens of thousands of acres on our public lands that the next president, even if they were a favorable person, would be very hard-pressed to reverse.”
While chipping away at national monuments, the Trump administration has also opened the door to uranium mining on public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon.
Conservation groups and tribal communities successfully convinced Obama’s Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to enact a 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims in the Grand Canyon region in 2012.
“It was a big win,” said Amber Reimondo, the energy program director for the Grand Canyon Trust in Flagstaff. The moratorium gave the Grand Canyon Trust the “peace of mind” that no new mining claims would mar the landscape or potentially contaminate the watershed for at least two decades, she explained.
After all, the Grand Canyon is a national jewel and holds special importance for the Native American communities in the region, especially the Havasupai Tribe. Putting a stop to new uranium claims in light of the mining industry’s painful and destructive history was a no-brainer.
Then the election happened. In a report released the U.S. Forest Service recommended revisiting the Grand Canyon mining ban in response to another Trump executive order, this time directing federal agencies to maximize domestic natural resources within their jurisdiction.
The global market has plenty of uranium, prices are low, and the U.S. has a huge stockpile of the mineral. There’s very little need to haul more uranium out of the ground for the purposes of energy independence or national security. Reopening the Grand Canyon region to uranium mining, Reimondo argues, was never about resource stockpiles or energy policy.
“The concern here, I think, is that this isn’t really about national security,” she said. “It’s about these private companies making a quick buck while they can.”
The Grand Canyon Trust is one of several organizations suing the Trump administration over the monument reductions in Utah. The Trust has also sued unsuccessfully to prevent an energy company from opening the Canyon Mine, an existing uranium claim near the Grand Canyon’s south rim.
It’s ironic. Zinke has put several Arizona monuments on the chopping block even though the state has a reputation as a tourism haven. Millions of visitors pour into Arizona every year, arriving to gawk at the Grand Canyon, the red rocks of Sedona, and the Petrified Forest, bringing their wallets and boosting the state’s economy.
The Trump administration’s aggressive stance at pulling back federal protections of public lands is at odds with public opinion. People submitted 2.4 million comments to Interior during the public comment period of Zinke’s review. And a poll conducted before Trump announced the monument review showed that broad majorities of Arizonans support protections for the environment and public lands.
The Morrison Institute at Arizona State University, along with the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and the Arizona Republic, found that 72 percent of Arizonans felt that parks and open spaces were “very important.”
In that sense, Bahr said that the rollback on public lands signals a worrying gap between the government and its constituents. If you talk to Arizonans, she said, they’ll tell you that they love public lands, national forests, and parks. But Washington policymakers and their boosters in Arizona evidently aren’t listening to the conservationists and outdoors types who want to preserve natural places.
“It’s not representative of the people,” Bahr said. “I feel like the whole representative democracy has broken down.”
As fights play out over public lands in Arizona, interest groups are waging pitched battles over climate change and the atmosphere. Although they have niche strategies, Arizona’s various environmental groups universally agree that climate change is a looming challenge. And right now, conservationists say that the state isn’t doing enough to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
The policy center of Environment Arizona released a report that shows Phoenix trailing behind Los Angeles, San Diego, and Honolulu among cities with the most installed solar-energy capacity. Bret Fanshaw, a senior advocate with the organization, said that although Phoenix’s progress toward renewables is exciting, Arizona’s renewable-energy goals lag behind California and Colorado.
“We’re still only barely just scratching the surface of what’s possible,” Fanshaw said. “And so we’re encouraging officials — at the local level and at the state level — to increase our commitments to renewable energy because there’s so much more that we can do.
Heavyweight interests on both sides of the debate have clashed this year in a bare-knuckle political brawl over renewable power in Arizona. A clean-energy group with ties to billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer called Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona is seeking to amend the state constitution to guarantee that Arizona’s public utilities generate half of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2030.
Conservative opponents are incensed. Portraying Steyer as a deep-pocketed California boogeyman, they argue that if the initiative succeeds, Arizonans could be forced to pay higher costs for electricity.
The state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, has opposed the clean-energy initiative. In an emailed statement, APS said that the ballot measure “will dramatically increase electricity bills, kill thousands of jobs, eliminate millions in tax revenue, potentially increase carbon emissions in Arizona, and make our state a less attractive place to do business.”
Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill that allows utilities to pay a minuscule fine (in some cases, just $100) if they violate clean-energy provisions of the constitution. During the debate over the bill, APS lobbyist Rod Ross told a State Senate committee that the utility proudly worked with Representative Vince Leach to draft the measure. Ross described their efforts as an attempt to “protect the people of this state from an out-of-state initiative funded by a California billionaire.”
“I have to ask if the paid consultants and supporters of this initiative are so concerned about clean energy, then why would they exclude the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, which is the largest source of clean energy in the country?” he asked the Senate government committee.
At the same committee meeting, Bahr rose to speak out against the bill that would leave the clean energy amendment toothless.
“Everyone knows that if the cost of noncompliance is cheaper than the cost of compliance, entities will serve their shareholders, not consumers, and will take the low road and pay the fines,” Bahr said.
Pollution from fossil fuels poses health risks, Bahr explained. In addition to helping stave off climate change, pushing utilities to acquire renewable energy sources will be an economic and public-health boon for regions in Arizona that phase out dirty fuels.
Environmentalists argue that the utilities’ fierce opposition to the clean energy amendment is part of their broader foot-dragging on renewable energy. They point to a decision this spring from the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities. The commission voted not to acknowledge a resource plan from three power companies, including APS, that relied too heavily on natural gas at the expense of renewable energy.
Jill Hanks, an APS spokesperson, said that about half of the utility’s energy mix comes from carbon-free energy, including nuclear power from the massive Palo Verde station. The Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona campaign left nuclear energy out of the category of renewables in the language of the constitutional amendment.
Fanshaw, who also opposes nuclear energy because of risks surrounding mining and nuclear waste, said that these fights show Arizona utilities are “not very serious in investing in renewable energy, and need more direction in making that future possible.
“We have a lot to gain by switching to renewable energy, and we have a lot to lose if we don’t,” Fanshaw said.
The thermometer at Sky Harbor ticked up to 100 degrees on April 10, notching the first triple-digit temperature of 2018 in Phoenix. And while hot temperatures are nothing unusual, climate change will uniquely affect the Southwest.
Scientists say that as we continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we will experience more extreme weather events. Wildfire and droughts will get worse. In an already-warm desert environment, hotter days will strain the Valley’s water supply, which is carefully monitored, but nonetheless limited.
“All of the simulations and the mathematical models that predict climate for the future agree that the Southwest is going to get warmer and drier, while the northern part of the country is going to get warmer and wetter,” said Osvaldo Sala, a professor at ASU’s School of Life Sciences and the director of the Global Drylands Center.
The Trump administration has sought to rescind measures to combat climate change — a hoax, Trump famously called it. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt rescinded the Clean Power Plan last October, scuttling a rule that would have required power plants to reduce carbon emissions.
Even as the federal government pulls back from this signature effort to rein in climate change, scientists say that the effects of climate change are happening now.
A warmer climate will change life in Arizona, and by some measurements, longer and more brutal heat waves have already arrived. Last year was Phoenix’s warmest on record. From August to December, Phoenix had 103 consecutive days without rain, the 20th longest dry spell of all time, according to the National Weather Service.
Fires will be a persistent danger, should temperatures continue to climb. As Arizona edges toward the summer, there is an abundance of fuel on the ground after an especially dry winter and spring. Last week, the NWS forecast an elevated fire season for May and June and showed a map of Arizona with huge patches of scarlet to represent the areas at risk. Wildfires scorched the Prescott National Forest and much of southern Arizona.
The climate models and predictions for the future of the Southwest raise an alarming question: How much hotter can Phoenix get?
It’s an area of genuine concern, Sala said. “There is no doubt that our planet is getting warmer, and in my view, this is the biggest challenge of this generation,” he said.
Climate change is by its nature a global problem, so even if we eschewed fossil fuels entirely and tapped into renewable energy for 100 percent of our power, Arizona can’t solve the problem unilaterally — especially under a new presidential administration that won’t acknowledge climate change. “We need to contribute to reducing our emissions,” Sala said. “But it’s not something that we can solve alone. It’s something that we can contribute to either making it worse or better.”
Name an issue — climate change, energy, public lands — and in the new political moment, Arizona and tribes seem to be careening toward an uncertain future. The political battles feel more charged. The stakes feel higher. Actions that would have been unthinkable in the past have come to pass: The president using his power not to establish national monuments but to reduce them; the EPA administrator in charge of the very agency he has spent his career battling. Even as we rewrite our expectations of how environmental fights play out, it’s difficult to envision the future.
It could be a dark world where 120-degree days are the norm in Phoenix every summer, where rivers and reservoirs run dry, and where industries drill and blast every ounce of ore from the ground. Or maybe it is a future where our homes and vehicles run on a boundless supply of clean energy, and the careful conservation of resources makes Phoenix livable for the next two, three, and four generations.
Neither future might come to pass. But the pessimist’s nightmare vision, no matter how unlikely, is enough to give you pause.
Some scientists refer to the current geologic era as the Anthropocene. They argue that the Earth’s surface, animal life, and atmosphere have been so profoundly altered by human activity that we ought to call this a new epoch, anthro meaning related to humans. Semantics and scientific infighting aside, the debate is really one over how we mark the seconds and minutes of an ancient geological clock.
Maybe the first civilizations to set foot in Arizona thought about these questions, too, when they cast their eyes on the Grand Canyon. Who gets to govern the land, water, and air? How do we carve out a life in the desert? What kind of world will we leave behind, long after we’re gone?
When they sent Natives to the most inhabitable areas where they did not want to live, they didn’t know what was underneath the land. American Indian lands are estimated to include nearly 30 percent of the nation’s coal reserves west of the Mississippi, as much as 50 percent of potential uranium reserves, and up to 20 percent of known natural gas and oil reserves. These lands also may contain rare earth minerals, increasingly sought after for use in manufacturing. We are next!
Again I apologize there was so much to cover and it made it such a long post. I might have rambled a bit!