Sierra Club: Guardians Of The Environment.

On June 3, 2013, Democratic Perspective hosted the leadership of Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter including Executive Director Sandy Bahr, Conservation Chair of the Sedona-Verde Valley Group, Brian Myers, and Carole Piszczek, Sedona-Verde Valley Group Secretary.

We began by asking about the history and mission of the Sierra Club. Bahr said, “The organization began around 100 years ago because the Sierra Club’s founder, John Muir, felt that people should get out to see the natural world. The Sierra Club also does a lot of advocacy at the Arizona legislature on behalf of parks, wildlife, water and other aspects of our environment. There is a grassroots presence, as well. We rely on volunteers. Volunteers are the leaders. There are 12,000 members in Arizona.”

Referring to the legislature, Bahr said, “The last three sessions have been the most challenging we’ve seen.” She mentioned the anti-UN bill which would ban any city or county from implementing any of the recommendations of Agenda 21, the non-binding UN initiative for a sustainable planet. When asked why the legislature would be opposed to sustainability, Bahr said, “I don’t really understand it. But there has always been concern on the right about the UN.”

Bahr said the political right is concerned about the creation of bike paths and reducing energy consumption for homes. This is particularly puzzling since, according to Bahr, “The foreclosure rate on energy efficient homes is much lower.”

As for her activities as a legislative lobbyist, Bahr said, “I usually try to get a meeting. If they won’t meet with me, I try to buttonhole them. I also testify in legislative hearings.”
Bahr stated that the Arizona Legislature has changed over the past few years. “There used to be bi-partisan support for the environment,” said Bahr. “Back in the early nineties, there was an ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) bill that protected companies that polluted by offering secret audits and immunity,” she continued. “Former Governor Fife Symington (a Republican) vetoed it. But last year, it got through and (Governor) Brewer signed it.”

As for the legislative representation for the Verde Valley (LD-6), Bahr described them as closed-minded. “Some make a show of listening to you, but still do what they want,” she said. Asked if it’s still worth talking with the legislature, Bahr responded, “Yes. We can sometimes stop or change bills. But the Arizona legislature has passed bills that say Arizona would not enforce federal bills.”

Turning to Brian Myers, we asked about environmental issues affecting the Verde Valley. He mentioned protection of the Verde River and stopping land exchanges around Sedona. “After all, the main economic engine for the Verde Valley is tourism,” said Myers.

Bahr noted that the Sierra Club issued a report about the Verde River – “Going With The Flow” which can be viewed on the Sierra Club website. The report warns that the Verde River’s base flow could dry up with 10 years. It’s threatened even more by Prescott and the Prescott Valley’s plan to pump water from the Big Chino aquifer. Bahr and Myers noted that the river “can’t sustain the native fish population without continuous flow.”

Another hot button environmental issue in Arizona is the planned copper mining near the town of Superior, AZ. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R) have co-sponsored legislation to exchange federal land which the Apache consider sacred to Resolution Copper (Rio Tinto Mining) for mining. As for claims that the new mine will create many jobs, Bahr said, “Each time they come out with a new bill, they go up, up, up. Will there be jobs? Yes, there will be jobs. Will they be sustainable? We don’t think so.”

According the Bahr, the mine will destroy a picturesque area known as Oak Flat, which was first protected by President Eisenhower by executive order. It will also impact the ground water, since the mining company will have to “de-water” the mine. “It’s not a good deal for the American people,” said Bahr. “It’s just a rip-off.” As for what people can do to help, Bahr said, “The most important thing people can do is speak up.”

For more information, visit the following websites: Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter, Sedona-Verde Valley Group.

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