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Arizona Senate Bill 1507 Aims to Prohibit the Rio Declaration and Ban Sustainability Initiatives State-Wide

By Stacey Champion

Arizona is nationally known for its extreme politics, giving daily fodder to the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Stephen Colbert (Image via RottenTomatoes.com)
We currently have one of the most conservative State Legislatures in Arizona’s history, with an onslaught of bills in recent news – many of which have passed – that are anti-immigration, anti-women and anti-environment.

I've lived in this state for 13 years, and have been an environmental consultant and sustainability advocate for the majority of that time.  So, when I found out about SB 1507, a bill that would serve the sole purpose of prohibiting the Rio Declaration in Arizona, it made me angry and intent on trying to educate people about the BIGGER picture of the potential ramifications with regard to the health, vibrancy and economic future of our state. There is a committed and strong sustainability industry here, and I'm here to tell you, there really is a large population of sane people in Arizona who are working toward improving our region.

Many of these Tea Party-leaning bills, such as SB1507, fly under the radar with Strike All Amendments.

Senate Bill 1507 was introduced by Senator Judy Burges (who made national news with her 'Birther Bill') in February 2012.  The original title of SB1507 was “unemployment insurance; technical correction,” which was changed to “United Nations Rio declaration; prohibition” after the Strike All amendment was passed. By the time the majority of the sustainability community found out about this bill, it had been passing through the Senate with virtually little discussion, and the only public commentary coming from Senator Burges’s supporters of the bill.

You can watch some of that testimony here:  SB 1507 House Committee Testimony.

The Rio Declaration was the result of a United Nations Conference on Environment and Development that took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.  The conference agenda was to reaffirm the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment which had been adopted at Stockholm in 1972, and to further expand upon the mission,

"With the goal of establishing a new and equitable global partnership through the creation of new levels of cooperation among States, key sectors of societies and people, working towards international agreements which respect the interests of all and protect the integrity of the global environmental and developmental system, and recognizing the integral and interdependent nature of the Earth, our home."

Twenty-seven principles were adopted into the Rio Declaration (also known as Agenda 21).

Agenda 21 has become the target of right wing conspiracy theorists, such as the John Birch Society, and is the new BIG BAD WOLF.  There are actual "Stop Agenda 21" tool kits along with language for bills (just like SB 1507)  so we won't supposedly have a UN takeover while we're sleeping.  Anything touted as green or sustainable has become code word for socialist society take-over to the off their rockers Tea Party crew.  Michael Schmitz, Executive Director of ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability USA, wrote a 3p piece about the recent attacks on green cities reminding people that:

"Agenda 21 is not a treaty or legally binding document and does not infringe upon the sovereignty of any nation, state, or local government. Bottom line, it isn’t being forced on anybody, anywhere, by any organization."

Apparently Senator Burges missed that memo...

Arizona is the 4th state to try to pass the Anti Agenda 21 bill. Other states include New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Tennessee.  It was killed in committee in all three of those states, and Tennessee even did a fiscal review of how the state would be financially impacted, which you can read HERE.  Arizona should take note.

If Senate Bill 1507 is allowed to pass in Arizona, this is my short list of how it could potentially hurt our state:

  • Jobs - The green and sustainable job market is one of the only consistently growing markets in AZ.  Any and all federal funding for green job training could vanish. We also have green sects throughout our government at both city and state levels. What would happen to those jobs?

  • Business/Industry - Nearly every large corporation and industry (and many small businesses) have sustainability initiatives/plans.  This is now a way of life - as well it should be because it's smart. Sustainability plans are meant to save companies money by using less energy, increasing productivity, lessening environmental impacts, and a myriad of other things that are good for People, Planet + Profit.  Would large companies like Intel want to set up shop in a state that was opposed to the Rio Declaration in this day and age?  The answer is an emphatic NO.

  • Health - Green building programs and policies improve the health of our people - thus saving millions of dollars in healthcare costs.  As someone who has worked as an indoor air/environmental quality consultant for 10 years, I would be happy to point anyone to hundreds of peer-reviewed and published studies with regard to the health benefits associated with green building, as well as less absenteeism and improved test scores in green-built schools.

  • Economy - Our economy is still down and many people are still un- or under-employed.  Energy programs such as Energize Phoenix (which was possible through a Federal energy grant) and serves to help people lower their utility costs (which is a huge burden in our state especially during summer months) by offering extremely low out-of-pocket costs to upgrade HVAC systems, add insulation, make sure ducts are sealed and offer shade screens could simply go away if this bill is passed.

  • ASU - An integral part of our urban core is ASU.  An integral part of ASU is the School of Sustainability.  Need I say more?

  • Social Equality/Environmental Justice - Sustainability only works if it reaches across all socio-economic levels, into every neighborhood and touches every group of people in our ethnically diverse state. Funding would dry up for TOD (transit oriented development) various HUD programs, and I can bet that Habitat for Humanity probably wouldn't get much love, either. And let us not forget the giant toxic plume that lives under a good part of Phoenix and is causing carcinogenic vapor intrusion issues into homes and schools in low-mid income neighborhoods.  We should probably not study that stuff anymore.  Cancer clusters aren't really a big deal, right Legislators?
So I can only hope that this ridiculous bill is stopped in it's tracks and not revived.  I created an online petition to oppose SB1507 if you care to sign it.  In the mean time, wish all us Arizonans some luck.  We need it.
Stacey Champion, based in Phoenix, AZ, is the owner of Champion PR + Consulting, Champion Indoors, LLC, is the organizer of Rogue Green (a monthly sustainability group) and is a community activist and blogger.  She can be reached at champion@cox.net or through Twitter - @ChampPR & @RogueGreen.  
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