Cronkite News Arizona PBS – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sun, 09 Jul 2023 03:47:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Shifting to Electric Vehicle Fleets Would save State, Local Governments Millions Sun, 09 Jul 2023 04:04:57 +0000

Liam Coates/Cronkite News

State and local governments in Arizona are scheduled to replace about 20,000 vehicles in their fleets over the next decade – and could save $283 million in fuel and maintenance if they replaced them with electric vehicles, a recent report says.

( Cronkite News) – WASHINGTON – Arizona governments could save almost $283 million over the next 10 years if roughly 20,000 gasoline-powered light-duty vehicles in their fleets that are due to be retired were replaced with electric vehicles, according a recent report.

The 38-page report by the Public Interest Research Group said that if state and local governments nationwide made a similar transition, it could save $11 billion in fuel and maintenance costs over the next decade.

Despite the eye-popping numbers, Diane Brown, the executive director of Arizona PIRG Education Fund said the report “takes a very conservative view in regards to its findings.”

“It did not make assumptions on the cost of the EVs decreasing, which we know is the trend. Nor did it factor in potential increases in gas prices which we know have been escalating,” Brown said.

“We didn’t assume anything beyond what is available today,” she said.

The report says that more electric vehicles are coming on the market every year and that those models are improving rapidly. It also notes that a new federal program could allow state and local governments to receive a credit of up to $7,500 on a new electric vehicle through a new “direct pay” mechanism.

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About two-thirds of the expected savings would come through lower fuel costs, with the rest coming from reduced maintenance typically required of electric vehicles.

The report, Electric Vehicles Save Money for Government Fleets, does not factor in the cost of additional infrastructure, like EV charging points – a fact that it acknowledges. Brown said that was due to the number of variables involved, like the fact that charging stations can be used by multiple vehicles. That makes it difficult to estimate how many additional charging stations would be needed in Arizona if governments in the state added 20,000 electric vehicles to their fleets.

In addition to the financial savings, a fleet transition would also improve air quality by reducing vehicle emissions, according to the report. It said that Arizona could see a 462,000-ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by replacing gas vehicles with electric.

Electric vehicles are a key way of reducing emissions from the transport sector, which represents 28% of US greenhouse gases, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A National League of Cities official agreed that, like other climate action efforts, investing in electric vehicles is both a “sound financial investment” and “essential for healthy and socially just communities.”

Peyton Siler Jones, the NLC’s sustainability program director, said in an email that replacing gasoline-fueled vehicles with electric ones is indeed a way of bringing fuel and maintenance costs down. But critical to this shift, she said, is “to embed an EV purchasing program within a wider transportation strategy that prioritizes public and active transit and reduces vehicle miles traveled.”

This would “maximize benefit to all people and minimize environmental harm of extraction, processing and disposal of metals used for EV batteries,” she said.

A general concern with increasing the number of EVs in Arizona is how the power grid would cope with the additional demand, particularly at peak times.

An electric vehicle charges at a station at the Grand Canyon National Park in this 2019 photo. Arizona has 2,935 public EV-charging stations, according to the Energy Department. (Photo by Michael Quinn/Grand Canyon National Park)

Burrell Kilmer, electric vehicle manager with Salt River Project, said it is planning for this future grid already, with the aim of powering 500,000 EVs in Arizona by 2035.

“Our goal, and the commitment behind it, is in place to ensure that SRP’s grid is ready to support our customers’ adoption of electric vehicles,” Kilmer said in an emailed statement.

“We are preparing the grid to accommodate the new electric load as it develops over time, we are implementing programs and pricing plans to enable and empower our customers, and we are supporting our communities’ efforts to advance clean, zero-emissions transportation across the region,” his statement said.

Arizona has 2,935 public charging stations, 14th-most in the nation, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy, which said there are 40,740 electric vehicles registered in the state. That was good enough for seventh-highest among states.

The Biden administration has invested heavily in developing the electric vehicle industry, awarding $2.8 billion last year in grants to expand domestic manufacturing of batteries and strengthen U.S. supply of minerals critical to the industry.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs’ office did not respond to a request for comment on the report. But Brown called on authorities to act on the report’s findings and “establish strong local and state plans” to “save taxpayers even more money.”

Liam Coates lee-um coa-tes

News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Liam Coates expects to graduate from Dublin City University in fall 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Coates has a keen interest in the environment, transport, the arts and tech. He was the recipient of the Virgin Media Digital Content Creator Award at the 2023 National Student Media Awards.

Via Cronkite News

Climate Crisis: Arizona Leaders ask Feds to Declare Extreme Heat a FEMA Disaster Sun, 18 Jun 2023 04:04:17 +0000

Josh Bootzin/Cronkite News

( Cronkite News ) – PHOENIX – All Phoenicians are familiar with heat, though resources to mitigate the health risks presented by extreme heat are not nearly as consistent from resident to resident.

In 2022, 425 heat-associated deaths were reported in Maricopa County, a 25% increase from the previous year. To curb the rise in deaths, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego has made efforts to provide assistance and disaster relief for residents susceptible to heat exhaustion and other heat-related harms, with the creation of the Office of Heat Response and Mitigation within the city’s government.

“I made it my mission to adapt to this trend to innovate, to try to find solutions so that we are not falling behind on heat resilience,” Gallego said Friday at a news conference to discuss heat reliefs efforts.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Rep. Ruben Gallego address media questions on the proposed Excess Urban Heat Mitigation Act outside Phoenix City Hall. (Photo by Josh Bootzin/Cronkite News)

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Rep. Ruben Gallego address media questions on the proposed Excess Urban Heat Mitigation Act outside Phoenix City Hall. (Photo by Josh Bootzin/Cronkite News)

“We’re the first city with a permanent office of government that is dedicated to fighting the heat and adapting to it anywhere in the United States. The office works side by side with the entire city government to address … our city streets, our fire response programs, environmental problems and so much more,” she said.

Some of Gallego’s efforts have already been put into place. Just this week, the city reached 100 miles of cool pavement coating – a water-based product applied over asphalt that has been found to reduce surface temperatures up to 12 degrees. The Cool Pavement Program started in 2020.

In addition to Gallego’s efforts in Phoenix, U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, is pushing for federal heat-resistance legislation in Washington. The proposed Extreme Heat Emergency Act urges the Federal Emergency Management Agency to consider adding extreme heat to the existing list of 16 types of declared major disasters.

“When a hurricane hits in Florida or a tornado touches down in Oklahoma, the federal government steps in and provides assistance,” Rep. Gallego said. “The same should be true when extreme heat waves strike.

“My bill allows cities like Phoenix to do more in building cool pavements, add more trees, install additional bus stop covers and deploy more cooling centers around the city,” he said. “With $30 million available in funding, my bill would make a difference in keeping Phoenicians cool.”

Cronkite News: Extreme Heat – Declared Disasters List

According to the National Safety Council, heat was the second-highest death-causing weather event in 2021, and heat-related deaths are only continuing to climb. The National Weather Service reported that over the last 125 years, Phoenix experienced an average of 12 days per year that exceeded 110 degrees Fahrenheit, but that average has climbed to 21 days over the last three decades.

Gallego’s bill is not set at a specific temperature, so any of the 50 states could potentially ask for federal aid when heat becomes extreme relative to the state’s normal temperature averages. In other words, northern states would not have to experience temperatures that would be extreme for Phoenix in order to qualify for federal aid.

Currently, local governments are forced to take from their general funds in order to offer relief to residents during extreme heat situations. Under the bill, cities would work with FEMA to create better and faster aid at a lesser cost to local governments.

Rep. Gallego said he hopes to have the bill approved by next year.

Josh Bootzin jaw-sh boot-zin (he/him)

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Josh Bootzin expects to graduate in December 2023 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. He receive bachelor’s of arts degrees in statistics and creative writing from the University of Pittsburgh in 2021 and hopes to build a career in data journalism around proficiencies in statistics, print journalism and a love for sports.

Andrew Lind an-droo lind (he/him/his)

Sports Broadcast Producer, Phoenix

Andrew Lind expects to graduate in August 2023 with a master’s in sports journalism. Lind graduated from the University of Kansas in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Via Cronkite News

Climate Emergency: As Heat-Related Deaths Soar in Arizona, Groups Launch Tree-Planting Intitiatives Tue, 11 Apr 2023 04:04:51 +0000 The blue palo verde is Arizona’s state tree. Several are shown in a neighborhood in North Phoenix. (Photo by Emily Mai/Cronkite News)

The blue palo verde is Arizona’s state tree. Several are shown in a neighborhood in North Phoenix. (Photo by Emily Mai/Cronkite News)

( Cronkite News ) – PHOENIX – Arizona cities, environmental advocates and businesses are teaming up to combat extreme heat by launching a variety of tree-planting initiatives.

With names like “Trees are Cool” and a “Cool Corridor” program, Mesa and Phoenix are trying to motivate residents to join the effort by providing free trees and resources to help with planting.

The effort can’t come soon enough. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests that Arizona’s climate conditions are becoming more extreme, and fatalities from extreme heat have spiked in recent years.

According to a report from the Arizona Department of Health Services, 835 people died from heat-caused and heat-related deaths in 2020, nearly double the 443 deaths recorded in 2019. In 2021, 302 heat-caused deaths and 552 heat-related deaths occurred for a total of 855 deaths.

Maricopa County – the fastest-growing county in the nation and home to one of the hottest cities in the U.S. in Phoenix – had a record number of 378 heat-associated deaths from Jan. 1 through Nov. 1, 2022, according to the county Public Health Department.

Nick Arnold, a legislative program manager at the climate advocacy group Climate Cabinet, said the staggering numbers aren’t a coincidence.

“We’re seeing heat and aridity increase because of climate change,” Arnold said. “Places without adequate tree coverage are experiencing worse extreme heat all throughout the day because without tree coverage, pavement and a lot of our infrastructure is absorbing heat from the Sun and then releasing it back out at night even when there is not the same solar energy.”

Left: Blue palo verde trees are common in the Sonoran Desert region. Photo taken in North Phoenix. Right: Arizona’s state tree, the blue palo verde, is easily recognizable due to its blue-tinged green bark and tiny leaves. Photo taken in North Phoenix. (Photos by Emily Mai/Cronkite News)

Mesa Mayor Giles announces tree-planting initiative

Seeking to increase Mesa’s tree canopy, Mayor John Giles announced a Trees are Cool initiative in February, with a goal of planting 1 million trees in the city by 2050.

“Any meaningful climate action plan … must address heat mitigation, and trees have a significant role to play in providing shade, keeping temperatures low and filtering greenhouse gas emissions,” Giles said in announcing the program. “I encourage everyone to get involved in planting new trees in Mesa.”

As part of the initiative, the mayor’s office launched an online tool to record newly planted trees. The data, which takes existing trees into account, will help the city track efforts to meet its goals. The website also shows Mesa neighborhoods at a greater risk of being impacted by the heat and provides information on choosing, planting and nurturing trees.

“We need to work together to ensure that our community can withstand the changing weather patterns caused by climate change, both in terms of extreme temperatures and ongoing drought,” Scott Bouchie, director of the Mesa Environmental and Sustainability Department, said in a news release. “It is especially important to reduce temperatures in our most vulnerable neighborhoods. And planting trees can help us do this.”

Through the city’s neighborhood planting program, Mesa residents can get up to $100 for planting two trees, according to news reports, and volunteers can help plant the trees. Find more information about the program on the city of Mesa website.

Blue palo verde trees can be spotted in neighborhoods around the Valley. Photo taken in North Phoenix. (Photo by Emily Mai/Cronkite News)

City of Phoenix gets involved

In 2021, Phoenix made headlines when it established the nation’s first publicly funded Office of Heat Response and Mitigation. Spearheaded by Arizona State University environmental science professor David Hondula, the four-person team has developed a strategic plan to combat urban heat and its associated health risks.

One of the key players on the team is Lora Martens, a landscape architect with expertise in desert plants. As the team’s urban tree program manager, Martens is tasked with increasing Phoenix’s tree canopy. Her efforts build on the city’s 2010 tree and shade master plan, which has a goal of a 25% tree canopy coverage by 2030. Martens estimates that the city only has around 12% tree canopy coverage now.

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“I have a feeling that it’s close to the right goal, but that we want to maybe have more nuance in how it’s not 25% everywhere,” she said. “Maybe there should be more canopy coverage where people are walking and a little bit less in areas downtown where there’s a lot of shade from buildings.”

Martens said tree-planting efforts in Phoenix are fragmented among different city departments, with Phoenix Urban Forestry taking charge of major streets and parks. Martens’ objective is to unite all departments under a master plan for tree planting. This includes incentivizing tree planting on private properties during new construction and identifying ways to encourage planting on established sites, she said.

While the city currently conducts tree-planting events with city workers, Martens’ office is developing a program to involve volunteers. She hopes it will be operational later this year.

Phoenix currently operates a Cool Corridor Program, which combats urban heat island effects by planting trees and other vegetation along city streets. Anyone interested in getting involved in this initiative can contact the city’s Street Transportation Department for more information.

Civic Space Park trees provide shade on a warm day. Photo taken in downtown Phoenix on April 6, 2023. (Photo by Gianna Abdallah/Cronkite News)

Phoenix looks to install man-made shading too

As temperatures in Arizona continue to soar, the rising number of homeless individuals in Phoenix has contributed to the increasing number of heat facilities. According to the Maricopa Association of Governments, the number of unsheltered people in Maricopa County surged to 5,029 in January 2022 from 1,646 in 2016.

While planting more trees in the city is a long-term solution to combat the extreme heat, immediate action may be needed to provide relief to those in need. The City Council has allocated $3 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to install human-made shade structures. The Office of Heat Response and Mitigation is overseeing the project, and built environment specialist Mary Wright said that “built shade can allow us to tactically provide shade in locations where a tree likely would not survive or where a tree may require extra water to survive.”

That project is in the planning stages, she said, and community input, product availability, cost, safety and aesthetics are still being taken into account. “All of the structure designs will be customizable to incorporate the integration of local artist’s artwork, which is a high priority for the community,” she said.

The Office of Homeless Solutions is also taking steps to provide safe places for homeless individuals to cool down and access water during the hot summer months. “One of the priority areas we are targeting is putting up shade and cooling structures in and around the Human Services Campus (12th Avenue and Madison Street), where we currently have our largest concentration of people who are unsheltered. We are also continually exploring opportunities to create indoor cooling facilities,” the office said in a statement.

Volunteers from American Express plant trees at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area in Phoenix. (Photo courtesy of American Express)

American Express and American Forests team up

Separate from Phoenix’s efforts to plant trees and install shade structures, American Express announced a $1.1 million grant to American Forests in February 2022 to help the nonprofit conservation organization increase tree equity in four cities where American Express has offices: Phoenix, New York City, Salt Lake City and Sunrise, Fla.

The two organizations are tracking progress of tree-planting efforts through an interactive map that shows the tree-equity score of neighborhoods throughout the Valley, not just Phoenix. According to American Forests’ website, the tree-equity score evaluates existing tree canopy, population density, income, employment, surface temperature, race, age and health.

American Forests calculates tree-canopy coverage in different parts of Phoenix through a partnership with EarthDefine, a geospatial data and services company based in Redmond, Wash. EarthDefine calculates coverage by targeting trees with a laser and measuring the time for reflected light to return to the receiver. Their scores are different from canopy coverage reported by Mesa and Phoenix.

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Michelle Kurtz, a spokesperson for American Forests, said they use additional data from a variety of sources to derive the score, including the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, imagery from Landsat and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

American Forests has not said how many trees they expect to plant. But they indicated that their goal is to get as close as possible to a tree-equity score of 100 in each of the four cities in the grant. The grant also will support “climate-resilient urban forests, create forestry jobs marketed to historically marginalized populations, identify urban tree nursery needs and help build nursery capacity,” American Express said on its website.

According to the interactive map, Phoenix has an average tree equity of 80 out of 100. Meanwhile, Mesa has an average score of 80 and Chandler has a score of 81. Glendale and Gilbert have scores of 75 and 83, respectively.

Tree-equity scores in individual neighborhoods throughout Phoenix vary greatly. Scores are significantly lower in low-income communities and communities of color in south and west Phoenix. Some neighborhoods have scores in the 20s, 30s and 40s, while other neighborhoods in Phoenix have scores of over 90.

On Feb. 16, the partnership was kicked off when members of the American Express Phoenix office volunteered alongside representatives from American Forests and the Arizona Sustainability Alliance to plant 45 trees at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area just south of downtown Phoenix. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego was among several community leaders in attendance.

Anyone interested in getting involved with the tree-equity program can visit the American Forests website and explore the “Get Involved” page.

People seek shade at Civic Space Park in downtown Phoenix on April 6, 2023. (Photo by Gianna Abdallah/Cronkite News)

Trees Matter

The Phoenix nonprofit Trees Matter has worked to increase the number of trees in the Southwest since its inception in 2005.

Through its tree planting program, Trees Matter provides training tools and resources to help community members organize tree-planting events, and works with local government agencies, schools and businesses to coordinate efforts. Trees Matter also provides free trees to low-income residents and helps them plant and care for the trees.

For those looking to volunteer with Trees Matter, there are several ways to get involved. Individuals can participate in a community tree-planting event organized by the organization, become a Trees Matter ambassador, make a donation or join the organization’s mailing list to stay informed about upcoming events and volunteer opportunities.

Trees Matter’s partnership with the Salt River Project on the Utility Shade Tree Program is an example of how the organization is working with other groups to promote the benefits of trees. The program offers SRP customers a low-cost way to add shade trees around their homes and businesses, encouraging the planting of large, low-water-use shade trees that can help reduce energy consumption. Trees Matter works with SRP to provide information and resources to customers interested in participating in the program, and offers free workshops to help participants learn how to plant and care for their new trees.



Shading legislation stalls in the Legislature

While municipalities and businesses are taking action to protect citizens from the heat, the Arizona Legislature has been slow to act.

SB 1689, introduced by Sen. Mitzi Epstein, D-Phoenix, would give the Arizona Department of Education $400,000 to distribute to public schools for tree planting. Although every Senate Democrat has co-sponsored the bill, no legislative committee has taken action on it. In addition to the Senate Rules and Appropriations committees, it was assigned to the Senate Education Committee in February.

Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, D-Tucson, the ranking member on the House Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee, said she believed that Republican lawmakers have been uncompromising on SB 1689 and other environmental justice bills proposed by Democrats.

“The Republicans have a slim majority; they are the ones in control of what bills get assigned to and heard in committee,” she said. “Unfortunately, those bills are not being discussed.”

Republicans have considered at least one bill that could increase tree equity and shading. Introduced by Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, HB 2441 would have allowed homeowners to plant Arizona’s state tree, the blue palo verde, on their property without needing a permit or being subject to fees or fines.

The bill passed the House unanimously, but a strike-through amendment in the Senate took out any mention of the state tree and instead established rules for providing water service to communities outside a city or town water service area relating to the Rio Verde Foothills community near Scottsdale.

Jeremy Yurow

News Reporter, Phoenix

Jeremy Yurow expects to graduate in summer 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science. Jeremy, who is assigned to the politics beat with Cronkite News this semester, has worked as an intern writer for Oahu Publications, the Arizona Capitol Times and The Arizona Republic.

Emily Mai

News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Emily Mai expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. Mai is part of the marketing and public relations team for ASU Gammage.

Gianna Abdallah

News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Gianna Abdallah expects to graduate in spring 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication and a minor in tourism management. Abdallah has not yet done an internship but has done many freelance jobs.

Via Cronkite News

Solar Plant northwest of Flagstaff expected to Avoid 1 billion pounds of CO2 Emissions each Year Sun, 22 Jan 2023 05:02:12 +0000 By Sydnee Wilson

( Cronkite News ) – FLAGSTAFF – Salt River Project has partnered with Clenera, a private renewable energy company, to bring Arizona its largest solar plant in 2024.

Construction of the CO Bar Solar plant will begin in 2023 on 2,400 acres of private land northwest of Flagstaff in Coconino County. Upon completion, it will offset 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide each year while generating power for 80,000 Arizona homes.

The project is designed to help SRP meet its decarbonization goals. It expects nearly 50% of the energy it provides customers to come from carbon-free resources and reach 2,025 megawatts of solar by 2025.

CO Bar Solar will provide 1,000 megawatts of solar in total, with SRP customers receiving 400 megawatts. Clenera will be operating the plant and has control over who receives the rest of the power. Jared McKee, Clenera’s vice president of business development, said it will benefit all Arizonans and lower the cost of clean energy.

He said this project puts sustainability at its core for the entire development process.

“When we look at the scale of this project, there aren’t really projects like this across the U.S. where you have up to 1,000 megawatts of a project all put together,” McKee said. “We’ve developed this project in coordination with the county officials, with the Arizona Game & Fish to ensure that we have wildlife corridors, to ensure that all the sustainable pieces of construction are done so that we can have a project that we can all be truly proud of.”

In addition to being sustainable for the environment from start to finish, McKee said it will be sustainable in costs and reliability.

Photo courtesy SRP

“You’re never going to have a full market conversion unless it can be done at a cost that makes sense for every single ratepayer out there, every single person who flips on a switch,” McKee said.

SRP’s relationship with solar has been rocky for years. The utility initially encouraged customers to install rooftop solar, but in 2015, it began charging higher rates for customers who installed solar systems after December 2014. In response, four customers filed an antitrust lawsuit in 2020. The lawsuit was thrown out by a lower court that year but reversed by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year.

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In the appellate court’s decision, Judge Eric D. Miller wrote that the plaintiffs were “‘directly and economically hurt by’ SRP’s exclusionary pricing scheme, which is aimed at suppressing competition by discouraging customers from installing solar-energy systems.”

SRP still charges solar customers higher rates, but that could change now that the lawsuit can proceed.

Michael Reynolds, manager of resource analysis and planning at SRP, said the company balances affordability, sustainability and reliability.

“While the sun is shining, we have great benefits from the solar that’s online,” Reynolds said. “Many of our customers have come to us and asked for something that can help serve their sustainability goals throughout the day. They don’t want something that just helps when the sun’s up. They want something that can continue into the nighttime.”

Reynolds said SRP is investing in wind energy and long-duration solar storage to make clean energy more reliable and resilient. These two solutions can help provide carbon-free energy at night and in more unpredictable weather.

“We really do have to think about some of those very rare cases where you have multiple days of weather that could impact how things operate,” he said. “It will be important for us to make sure that we have the resources online that can jump in if there’s an emergency or some unexpected weather system demand. That’s really why we need to have a diverse resource portfolio and that’s what we’ve been doing.

“Now, as we look out into the distant future, I do believe that we can think about what it would look like to be totally carbon-free. But we’ll need to think about how we can maintain reliability and diversity across resource types as we pursue that decarbonization.”

Solar is Arizona’s number one source of renewable energy, and SRP is the leading power provider in metro Phoenix. The state is fifth in the nation for solar-powered electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Arizona going 100% solar or completely carbon-free would be difficult given today’s technology constraints, but it’s not unattainable.

Barry Petrey, the manager of resource acquisition at SRP said it’s possible for Arizona to see a clean energy future.

“In the future, I could envision certainly a carbon-free portfolio,” Petrey said. “100% carbon-free resources.”

Sydnee Wilson sid-nee wil-sun (she/her/hers)

News Reporter, Phoenix

Sydnee Wilson expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. Wilson has interned with Phoenix Magazine and written for the Peoria Times and HerCampus ASU.


Via Cronkite News

In One State, Voters backed a Law Exposing Political ‘Dark Money’ that is hailed as Model Mon, 02 Jan 2023 05:04:34 +0000 By Emilee Miranda | –

( Cronkite News) – WASHINGTON – It could be months before the impact of Proposition 211 is seen in Arizona, but experts are already hailing the new law aimed at exposing “dark money” in politics as a model for the rest of the nation.

“Other states have passed laws that aim to address secret spending, but Prop 211 puts Arizona at the forefront of securing voters’ right to know … and Prop 211 is a model for other states to follow,” said Patrick Llewellyn, director of state campaign finance at the Campaign Legal Center.

But what Llewellyn is calling a model, critics are calling a free speech threat. Opponents went to court last week to block what they call an unconstitutional law that will chill free speech, by exposing donors who want their identities kept secret to “retaliation and harassment” for giving to certain causes.

“Prop 211 is styled the ‘Voters’ Right to Know Act,’ but that is a misnomer,” said the suit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court last Friday by the Goldwater Institute. “Voters only get to know who felt comfortable subjecting themselves to the Act’s identity and financial reporting requirements when communicating their political views; voters do not get to know who the Act silenced. That is backwards.”

Samantha Chow/ Cronkite News

Proposition 211 requires that independent organizations – whether an individual or a group – that spend $50,000 or more in an election cycle to support or oppose a candidate or issue in a statewide race must identify any donors who gave $5,000 or more. The trigger for disclosure in local campaigns, such as city council or school board races, is $25,000.

Currently, those outside groups have to report their spending on a campaign, but not where the money came from – hence the term “dark money.”

“Secret spending in elections is a growing problem and that’s not going away,” Llewellyn said. “So we need real transparency about who’s spending big money on elections to reduce the influence of wealthy special interests, and that’s what Prop 211 provides for Arizona voters.”

Arizona voters apparently agreed, approving Proposition 211 by an overwhelming 72.3% to 27.7%, the widest margin of victory of the 10 statewide ballot questions this fall. Almost 1.74 million people voted for the measure, also known as the Voters’ Right to Know Act, compared to 664,111 who voted against it.

That was a sharp change for the measure, which failed to get enough signatures to make it onto the ballot in two previous tries.

Critics raised concerns before this election that, far from leading to transparency, Proposition 211 could end up silencing voters’ voices by making people hesitant to support issues out of fear of retaliation.

Scot Mussi, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club said before the election that the dark money measure is not about “trying to provide information to the voters about what’s going on in our elections. We believe the result will be that this information in elections can be used to target, harass and intimidate people … simply because of the causes and issues they want to support.”

The Free Enterprise Club is one of the plaintiffs in the Goldwater Institute suit, along with the Center for Arizona Policy and two unnamed donors, Does I and II, who have “a history of giving to charitable organizations” with the expectation that their identities will be kept private.

The unnamed donors fear that revealing their identities will subject them to “a risk of ‘serious physical harm,’ and includes economic, reputational, and other forms of harassment and retaliation.” That will cause them to stop giving, the suit says, which will, in turn, harm the Free Enterprise Club and the Center for Arizona Policy.

That is not a fear for Pinny Sheoran, president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona and a strong backer of shining light on dark money transactions.

“By having to declare where the original source of the money is, we may be in a better place to identify money from outside the country or even outside the state,” Sheoran said.

She said she is less concerned about abuse of the law than she is about a possible lack of enforcement. Sheoran said she has not seen any indicator or clear guidelines on how the Citizens Clean Elections Commission – which the proposition names as the enforcing authority – plans to ensure compliance.

“If the Clean Elections Commission is a strong body, then it will be enforced appropriately,” Sheoran said. “If it isn’t, then we have to see what happens, then the citizens will have to take it as the law and bring forward violations.”

Under the new law, anyone who violates the disclosure requirement could be fined at least the amount they failed to report, and potentially as much as three times that amount. That money would be put into a fund that the Clean Elections Commission could use to enforce the law.

It could be some time before the law is tested, with the next round of statewide elections not coming until 2024, when state legislators will be up for reelection. But supporters are optimistic.

Llewellyn said he is hopeful the Clean Elections Commission will find a way to both implement and enforce the law. In the meantime, he will encourage other states lacking campaign finance disclosure laws on dark money to look at the Arizona model.

“The goal of Prop 211 and the goal of campaign finance disclosure is to make sure that voters have the information they need to weigh and evaluate the messages they’re receiving,” Llewellyn said.

“Prop 211 provides Arizona voters with real transparency about who’s spending big money to influence their vote, by ensuring that big political spenders in Arizona disclose where their money is really coming from,” he said.

News Broadcast Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Emilee Miranda expects to graduate in December 2022 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Miranda has reported on migration in Tapachula, Mexico, for the Cronkite Borderlands Project.

Via Cronkite News

SCOTUS: Chair of Arizona GOP, Kelli Ward, must turn over her Phone Records to Jan. 6 House Panel Tue, 15 Nov 2022 05:02:33 +0000 By Tori Gantz | –

( Cronkite News ) – WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court said Monday that Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward has to comply with a subpoena and turn over her phone records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6th insurrection.

Ward had argued that the House Select Committee Investigating the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol was not interested in finding evidence about the riot, but was merely looking to shame Republicans in her phone contacts who may not have had anything to do with Jan. 6. That would chill their right to free political association, she said.

Ward and her husband, Michael, who are both doctors, also claimed that the subpoena would expose their patients’ medical records.

Lower courts disagreed, ordering the Wards to turn over the documents. The Wards appealed to the Supreme Court, and Justice Elena Kagan on Oct. 26 stayed the lower courts’ rulings and ordered the committee to respond, which it did on Oct. 28.

The court, without comment, lifted that stay Monday, allowing the lower courts’ orders to take effect. The brief order came over the objections of Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Ward could not be reached for comment Monday.

But her attorney said the order was not a complete loss. Alexander Kolodin said the fact that the court considered the appeal was “obviously sending a warning shot to policymakers, right, who would think about using their position to come after Americans for who they choose to associate with politically.”

“That’s evidenced by the fact that the two justices actually said that this case met the extraordinary requirements for a first stay. And I think you usually don’t get justices saying that separately unless they mean to send a message,” Kolodin said.

Officials with the committee did not respond to requests for comment Monday. In its response to the Wards’ claims, however, the committee said the subpoena was only seeking information on who called and when, and for how long, but not “any information regarding what the participants spoke or texted about.”

It said the phone records it was seeking from Nov. 1, 2020, to Jan. 31, 2021, are needed to “shed light on how Dr. Ward contributed to the multi-part effort to interfere with the peaceful transition of power.”

Besides being an active denier of the 2020 election results, both Ward and her husband put their names on an alternate list of Trump presidential electors sent to Washington that claimed to be the rightful slate of electors for the state.

Ward’s activity earned a subpoena from the committee this year – along with several other Arizona officials, including failed secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem.

Ward was deposed, but invoked her Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer, according to a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It cited the committee’s attempt to get information from Ward through the “less-intrusive method” of an interview as one justification for upholding the subpoena for the phone records.

Monday’s action by the Supreme Court may not be the end of the legal fight.

T-Mobile, which is also subject to the subpoena, has pushed back against delivering the Wards’ phone records because of the potential for exposing patients’ medical records. A federal district judge had upheld the subpoena, saying that the committee had agreed to narrow its scope.

But T-Mobile said last month that the judge was mistaken. It said in court filings that the district judge agreed that the subpoena “had not been narrowed to exclude records involving telephone numbers associated with Dr. Kelli Ward’s medical patients.” But the judge also said that she could not take any action as long as the case was on appeal to the Supreme Court.

T-Mobile informed the Supreme Court last week that if the justices lifted the stay, it would ask the 9th Circuit to send the case back to the district court for clarification on the scope of the subpoena.

That comes as the Jan. 6 committee has just weeks to conclude its report, before Jan. 3 when it is disbanded.

Tori Gantz expects to graduate from Barrett, the Honors College, in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a certificate in sociolegal studies. Gantz has interned as a reporter with the Arizona Capitol Times.

Via Cronkite News

Surging numbers: Driving an Electric Vehicle doesn’t need to cause Range Anxiety Mon, 31 Oct 2022 04:04:46 +0000 By Hailey Forbis | –

( Cronkite News) – SANTA MONICA, Calif. – With more electric vehicles humming down highways, states are under increasing pressure to install more public charging stations to make sure the juice keeps flowing.

The challenge is particularly acute in California, which adopted a rule in August to gradually phase out sales of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035 with the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to help fight climate change.

Via Pixabay

States can take advantage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, which gives $5 billion nationally for public charging stations as part of the new National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program. States that write up strategic plans to expand charging station infrastructure are eligible for a grant from the program to help make it possible.

The program should benefit Arizona, with wide open spaces and long distances between major cities. It recently was granted $76.5 million over three years to install stations along interstate highways in the state.

The Arizona Department of Transportation is holding a series of public meetings, including Nov. 16 in Phoenix, to gather comments on the plan.

“The plan basically calls for electrical vehicle charging stations to be placed either upgraded existing stations and eventually new stations no more than 50 miles apart initially on the interstate system in Arizona,” said Doug Nick, an ADOT spokesman.

There are two exceptions, both involving proposed stations up to 70 miles apart. One would be on Interstate 8 between Gila Bend and Casa Grande, the other on Interstate 40 between Kingman and Seligman.

Hailey Forbis /Cronkite News Los Angeles Bureau: “Electric Car Charging”

Electric-vehicle owners say additional public chargers will help give them peace of mind that they won’t be stranded without juice.

“When I first got the Tesla, I didn’t have the at-home charger,” said Samatha Solis, who attends Arizona State University. “So honestly it was such a hassle having to recharge it or find a charger.”

Arizona had 1,952 charging ports as of 2021 and California had 34,185 according to evadoption. Evadoption’s goal is “to provide data-driven analysis and forecasts.”

The need is even more acute in California now that it intends to eventually end sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles. The state has set a goal of having 35% of all new vehicles sold starting in 2026 will be zero-emission. The number increases to 68% by 2030 and to 100% by 2035.

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Such a radical change in transportation has raised fears that demand for EV charging will strain the power grid, that enough electricity can’t be generated to recharge all of those vehicles.

It’s easy to see why when visiting a large charging station like the one Tesla has built in Santa Monica, west of Los Angeles. Even at midday on a weekday, Tesla cars and SUVs were coming and going steadily, with most of the chargers in use at any given moment.

The Biden administration says that Tesla is working to build new supercharger equipment that will permit non-Tesla drivers to utilize the equipment.

But one renewable energy advocate said California is producing so much renewable energy that the grid “They’re installing more solar and wind energy on the grid every year than all the electric cars sold that year or whatever need and it’s by several orders of magnitude,” said Paul Scott, co-founder of the advocacy group Plug In America. “So the grid will continue to get cleaner even with the added demand from electric vehicles.”

Nick, the ADOT spokesperson, said Arizona’s major power producers have been brought into the conversation to make sure there will be ample power as transportation electrifies.

Hailey Forbis expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minors in digital audiences and geography. Forbis has interned with RightThisMinute, Arizona Highways and AZTV.

Via Cronkite News

‘It’s getting close’: As the megadrought grinds on, Southwest Water in Doubt Sun, 18 Sep 2022 04:04:35 +0000 By Sydnee Wilson | –

( Cronkite News) – PHOENIX – NASA satellite photos show how drastically the water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead have receded in just the past few years. They demonstrate the severity of long-term drought and the challenges Arizona will face to conserve and enhance its precious water supply.

Susanna Eden is the research program manager for the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Arizona. She has been with the center for 17 years and has researched water policy and management even longer. The NASA images are shocking, she said, and should concern Arizonans.

Satellite images from NASA show how water levels have dropped over time at the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, and at Lake Powell, which straddles the Arizona-Utah line. The Lake Mead images taken, July 6, 2000, left, and July 3, 2022, right, demonstrate the impact of climate change and ongoing drought throughout the West. (Photos courtesy of NASA)

“They are very stark images,” Eden said. “People should recognize that it’s not a disaster yet, but it’s getting close.”

She also said people may have a false sense of security when it comes to tackling this issue.

“We tell ourselves that we are in a good position because of our technology and because of our abilities to control nature and our actions,” Eden said. “We tell ourselves that we’re not going to go the way of civilizations that disappeared because of drought. But we are challenged.”

To help meet those challenges, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project are negotiating with California and Nevada to find a way to meet water demands after the federal government in August ordered further cuts to water delivery in the Colorado River Basin.

A Flourish chart

As Lakes Mead and Powell shrink – both reservoirs are about 25% full – remnants of life before the drought have begun to resurface. The reduced water levels in Mead have revealed sunken boats, landing vessels from the World War II era, and human remains of a murder victim from more than 50 years ago. Long-hidden natural wonders, including Lake Powell’s Gregory Natural Bridge, also have come to light.

The receding reservoir levels – which threaten water for agriculture, people and hydropower – are the result of a megadrought that has gripped the Southwest for more than two decades. It’s extremely rare in the climatological record – the kind of drought that causes upheaval and major change, Eden said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, which updates weekly nationwide, shows all of Arizona in drought. Some areas of Mohave Valley near Lake Mead are in extreme drought, and the area closest to Lake Powell in Coconino County is in a severe drought.

A Flourish chart

In August, the Bureau of Reclamation implemented a 24-month operation plan to reduce releases at Glen Canyon Dam, which forms Lake Powell. The move will keep about 1 million acre-feet in Powell by next April.

In June, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton gave the Basin states until mid-August to propose a plan to keep an additional 2 million acre-feet of water in the system, but that didn’t happen so the federal government stepped in.

In a statement last month, the state water department and the Central Arizona Project – which delivers Colorado River to the state – said Arizona has carried a disproportionate burden of water reductions and a future plan will need to be more equitable for the state.

The Drought Contingency Plan developed in 2019 by Arizona, Nevada and California outlines that Arizona gets 592,000 fewer acre-feet of water from the Colorado River starting next year. In comparison, Nevada only has to cut 25,000 acre-feet and California doesn’t have any reductions.

“We want to spread the pain,” said Doug MacEachern, communications administrator for the Department of Water Resources. “Arizona already is leaving around 800,000 acre-feet of its allocation in the system now this year alone, and in large part that is water that formerly went to farmers.”

Arizona agriculture uses 74% of Arizona’s water supply, so farmers bear the brunt of the reductions. If Arizonans don’t act now, MacEachern said, the whole country will feel the impacts of these cuts in the future.

Water levels at Lake Powell have dropped so low that natural wonders are starting to reappear, including Gregory Natural Bridge, which hasn’t been seen since the Colorado River reservoir was filled in the 1960s. (Photo courtesy of Eric Hanson)

“We have to be conscious of the fact that 90% of North America’s leafy green vegetables come from farms in Arizona in the wintertime,” he said. “Without water to irrigate that land, the entire country will be seeing and probably feeling that impact because they won’t have that lettuce they come to expect on their table in the wintertime. There are impacts going forward that we’re all going to have to deal with.”

The effect of the megadrought could be catastrophic and water users need to think long-term about how to best conserve dwindling water supplies.

“Pretty much every community in the Phoenix area is in at least stage one of their drought plans, and that requires, generally, that certain areas along roadways aren’t watered or watered less than they would have been otherwise,” MacEachern said. “It hasn’t set a really demanding stage, but the likelihood of cities going deeper into their drought plans is real.”

Cynthia Campbell, the water resources management adviser for Phoenix, said the city is in stage one of its drought management plan. In stage one, she said, “we try to inform and educate our customers as much as we possibly can, in an intensive way to make sure that folks are aware that there is an issue.”

Campbell said the drought isn’t a crisis for the city. Phoenix gets 60% of its water from other sources, such as snowmelt from the far north and east of the Valley, and through the Salt River Project, and the city has long had water conservation efforts.

“If things get more significant in terms of the cuts, which no one really knows, at this point, when or if that will happen, then we absolutely have those tools in the toolbox to include curtailing use,” Campbell said.

Related story

Angry at other states, Arizona towns, tribes rethink planned water cuts

Those tools include water rebate programs, increasing landscaping efficiency and a cooling tower program that recycles water, Campbell said. Phoenix also will follow its Drought Management Response Procedure, which has four stages, ranging from education and voluntary water reductions to mandatory reductions and fines for overuse.

Water cuts and conservation can help address a megadrought, but they may not be an adequate long-term solution. Eden said conservation by the public is only part of the answer.

“People who control large amounts of water or who have a major say in … large amounts of water need to realize that things can’t go on the way they have been up to now,” Eden said. “Major sacrifices have to be made. That is one of the things that I would advocate along with investigating and investing in all the kinds of technological and infrastructure options of reuse, desalination (of seawater) and stormwater capture.”

The NASA images, released in July, indicate a bleak future for Arizona water, but Eden remains hopeful. As long as Arizona and the other six Basin states build a comprehensive plan and begin to conserve water, she said the water crisis will end.

“I’m pretty optimistic about the future of Arizona water,” Eden said. “I believe that we can get through this crisis and go through another potentially long period of sufficient water. We can put our minds together and come up with solutions for really long-term issues or the change in climate.”

Sydnee Wilson expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. Wilson has interned with Phoenix Magazine and written for the Peoria Times and HerCampus ASU.

Payton Major expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degrees in broadcast journalism and meteorology, as well as certificates in GIS and atmospheric sciences. Major has interned with CNN Weather and MadridMedia and works for WeatheRate and the Arizona Climate Office.

Via Cronkite News

Biden Reaffirms Dreamers’ DACA Migrant youth Protections, but when will they be Legislated? Mon, 05 Sep 2022 04:24:44 +0000 By Tristan Richards | –

( Cronkite News) – WASHINGTON – The Biden administration reaffirmed its commitment last Tuesday to DACA, officially posting regulations to extend the 10-year-old program that has protected hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.

The rule, which takes effect Oct. 31, makes few changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and it does not move it any closer to becoming law – a key shortcoming for advocates who lived through Trump administration efforts to overturn the program.

“Any program that is created by one president can be undone by another,” said Jose Patiño, vice president of education and external affairs at Aliento. “That is an issue we have seen with DACA.”

Patiño said groups like his “are looking at all avenues” to pressure Congress into passing comprehensive immigration reform that would enshrine and expand DACA.

But critics said that is not likely to happen, noting that DACA had to be approved as a regulation because Congress could not reach agreement on immigration legislation. Matthew O’Brien, director of investigations at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, called DACA “a federal regulation that doesn’t have any statutory authority underlying it.”

“The fact is that Congress put restrictions on immigration for a reason and the president, whether it is Obama or Biden, doesn’t have any authority to unilaterally change those because they don’t like the restrictions that are in place,” said O’Brien, a former immigration judge.

Many of the more than 1,000 protesters who showed up for Thursday’s events in Washington were DACA recipients or their friends or famliy, including dozens who came from Arizona. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Cronkite News)

It was during then-President Barack Obama’s first term that the Department of Homeland Security first enacted DACA as an administrative rule that said Dreamers – undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children – would not be priorities for removal.

The program deferred deportation of those immigrants for up to two years, protection that is renewable. It did not provide a path to citizenship, instead granting them “lawfully present” status, which allowed them to legally obtain work permits, drivers’ licenses and more.

Immigrants had to apply for the protection, paying fees and showing they had continuously been in the U.S., had a clean record and were in school or the military, among other requirements.

As many as 776,000 people have been protected by the program, and there were 611,470 active DACA recipients in the U.S. at the end of 2021, with 23,090 of them in Arizona.

Critics have said since the start that DACA is an abuse of executive power and former President Donald Trump vowed to overturn it. Those efforts ultimately failed, but legal challenges since have had some success stifling the program.

The most recent ruling, from a federal district court in Texas, said DACA could continue to protect current recipients, who can reapply for coverage. But it said DHS cannot accept applications from Dreamers not previously covered.

DACA supporters protest in Phoenix on Sept. 5, 2017, the day the Trump administration said it planned to end the program. (File photo by Tynin Fries/Cronkite News)

That injunction barring new applicants would still apply under the rule posted Tuesday. And the final rule does not expand on the requirements or eligibility for DACA recipients, some of whom are now reaching upward of 40 years old.

Patiño called the final rule somewhat “disappointing.”

“We have been advocating for the program to be expanded. By that we mean the opportunity dates,” he said. “We were hoping that with this new rule it would change some of those deadlines.

“It seems that nothing really changed for DACA recipients or the community,” Patiño said.

Andrew Arthur, resident fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, said that “all of this is really just kicking the can down the road in respect to DACA.”

“The administration would be better off simply letting the court rule and sending it over to Congress who actually has the authority to grant amnesty – or not – to this population of people,” Arthur said.

He called DACA something of a relic, a remnant of the Obama administration. Even though DACA has been beneficial to a large number of immigrants, he said, its practicality is starting to wane.

“They are certainly a sympathetic population of people,” Arthur said of Dreamers. “Although I will note that many children covered under this are approaching middle age based on criteria for it.”

Julia Gelatt, senior policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute, said that posting the new rule in the Federal Register is a way to give for the program to have a “strong legal footing” against ongoing court challenges.

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But without action by Congress, she said, the program can only hold out for so long.

“Ultimately, Congress should be legislating on immigration,” Gelatt said. “The only kind of real relief for Dreamers would be legislation offering them a path to legal status.”

She agreed with Patiño that Congress should not only codify DACA but expand it, including a pathway to citizenship. She said “DACA has enabled beneficiaries to contribute a lot.”

“We’ve seen them working all kinds of vital jobs in the pandemic, increasing their earnings, paying higher taxes, and really contributing to the country,” Gelatt said.

While the two sides of the issue don’t agree on much, they all seem to agree that Congress needs to act on the question.

Even though O’Brien does not think congressional action is likely, that does not mean it’s not possible. Arthur said Congress can act at “any time,” and that the Biden administration should focus its efforts there.

“It would be better for the administration to propose some real changes that would pass with a bipartisan majority in the House and 60 votes in the Senate that would beef up border security and make some meaningful changes to lawful immigration in the United States and at the same time provide real benefits that would allow the DACA population to move on with their lives,” Arthur said.

Tristan Richards, News Reporter, Washington, D.C. expects to graduate in spring 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. Richards, who has worked for The State Press and plans to attend law school, is working for Cronkite News D.C.

Via Cronkite News