This year’s Earth Day theme is “Invest In Our Planet”. Today we’d like to bring attention to the current climate change issues affecting Pima County.
Over the last several years, Pima County has experienced many of the negative consequences of climate change. One of the most notable displays of extreme weather in Pima County are the prolonged wildfire seasons. In 2020, a devastating wildfire season brought about The Bighorn Fire, which destroyed around 120,000 acres in the Catalina Mountains, alongside several other wildfires throughout Arizona. The unseasonably hot and dry conditions leading to these wildfires were exacerbated by the lack of rainfall from 2020’s monsoon season.
On the other end of the spectrum, climate change has ramped up the severity of our monsoon seasons. Although the year before lacked a monsoon season, 2021 went on record to have the third wettest monsoon in Tucson history and spawned several rescue missions over the course of the season.
Despite the insane amount of rainfall we received in 2021, Pima County never escaped Arizona’s drought of over two decades. Pima County is considered to be at ground level zero in terms of water conservation because many of its rivers have had their water sources depleted.
The Santa Cruz River, located here in Pima County, is an example of a river that dried up due to excessive groundwater pumping for irrigation and urban development. It’s not the only one – the Rillito River has also dried up due to the same conditions. In a desert like ours, water conservation is critical, and the damage done to these water sources can have massive consequences. Despite the current state here, there is still time to heal at least some of the damage. Our best hope may be returning these lands to native tribes who know how to take care of it.
This can be seen with the restoration of the Santa Cruz River, which has had water supply restored to areas running through the San Xavier District as a result of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s reclamation of the river. The Santa Cruz River was an important water source for early native tribes, but it was stolen and damaged by unsustainable groundwater pumping. Presently, the Tohono O’odham Nation has restored water supply following water rights settlements that gave them the opportunity to reduce groundwater usage.
The Santa Cruz River is just one of many possible examples of river and land restoration that can result from returning land to native tribes. This aspect is crucial to consider in environmental discussions moving forward.
Priya Sundareshan | Special to the Arizona Daily Star Our own recording secretary (attorney and teacher at the natural resources law clinic at the University of Arizona) penned this opinion piece.
The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
New clean energy rules are on the Arizona Corporation Commission’s agenda for its upcoming May 4 meeting. At this meeting, the commission’s chair, Lea Marquez Peterson, has the chance to lead Arizona into a new era by voting to put these rules into effect.
If approved, these rules will update Arizona’s energy standards to put us on a path to 100% carbon reduction by 2050. They will also promote investments in energy efficiency and energy storage, make the utility planning process more transparent, and facilitate a just transition to clean energy sources for communities historically left behind.
And the rules will help Arizona regain the leadership we once exhibited when we were the first among our neighbors to introduce clean energy standards — though Arizona now falls far behind New Mexico and Nevada.
Tucson homeowners like me will benefit from the rules. I recently installed solar panels on my roof, but balked at paying for battery storage that could optimize an electric vehicle purchase and contribute to a more resilient grid.
If the commission approves this energy storage standard that includes customer-owned systems, it will motivate utilities to help individual consumers with incentives that defray some of the initial costs.
This is especially helpful to make solar more accessible for low- and moderate-income households, who can receive more incentives to install solar panels and energy storage as well as to replace outdated appliances through the new energy efficiency standard.
Of course, we all benefit due to the impact these rules will have on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to ward off the worst impacts of climate change.
As Tucsonans and Arizonans, we already see hotter weather making our lives difficult and drought conditions forcing us to renegotiate our water sources. We can distribute solar energy production on land that is already developed, generating electricity right where the people are and avoiding habitat impacts to our desert species.
The law students I teach are well aware of these natural resource constraints and are eager to help people adapt. We must act now.
The commission is well within its authority under the Arizona Constitution to finalize these rules. These energy rules arguably come under the commission’s sole and expansive ratemaking authority due to the impact these standards would have on utility generation portfolios and costs passed to consumers (for example, solar power is cheaper than power from burning fossil fuels).
And although an Arizona Supreme Court ruling last year held that the commission shares “permissive” authority with the legislature to regulate public health and safety, that does not prevent the commission from finalizing these rules.
Meanwhile, the state legislature has not enacted conflicting bills. Others note that the court actually has not determined which authority governs the energy rules — merely that appointing a utility’s interim manager was within its permissive authority but not its ratemaking authority.
The commission is empowered to move forward on the Energy Rules regardless of which authority it uses.
Chair Marquez Peterson should take this opportunity to approve the energy rules, which the five-member commission had agreed 4 to 1 on a bipartisan basis (with her favorable vote) in November to begin the formal rulemaking after thoroughly discussing the issue for three years.
Arizona voters rewarded her engagement while developing these rules and her interest in consumer protection, electing her in 2020 to a full four-year term and facilitating her assumption of the chair role. Now we need her leadership to finish this rulemaking that will improve the lives of Arizonans into the future.
Priya Sundareshan is an attorney and teaches the natural resources law clinic at the University of Arizona.
Sundareshan, Priya (2021) “Tucson Opinion: Marquez Peterson has chance to lead Arizona’s energy future” Arizona Daily Star April 28, 2021 Available at: link
Did you know that you have a loud & clear voice in the Arizona Legislature?
The Arizona Legislature is where policies on education, healthcare, free and fair elections, criminal justice reform and the environment are made – the issues that affect your life and the lives of your friends and families. A new session of the Arizona Legislature opened in Phoenix on Monday, January 11.
The REQUEST TO SPEAK system (RTS) is a way for you to comment – from the comfort of your home! – on legislation that is pending in Legislative Committees.
Arizona Civics 101 and the Request to Speak System Sunday, January 31 2 pm Tucson Time via Zoom Webinar Registration is required view video of this event above!
The Pima County Democratic Party is inviting you to a informal, virtual session to learn about the basics of the Arizona Legislatureand to learn how you can get an activated account on the Request to Speak system. You do not have to be a registered voter to use RTS.We are looking at YOU, high school students!
The Republican majority in the state legislature is razor thin this year. Join us to learn how you can add your voice to encourage good bills and to comment and disapprove of bad bills – bills that run counter to the values that we as Democrats hold dear. Make your voice heard!