PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey signed a $100 million plan to fight current fires, but not before hearing from Democratic leaders about what’s not in the legislation: preventing future blazes by dealing with climate change.
At a signing ceremony Friday, the governor pointed out that Arizona lost more than 900,000 acres to fires last year. And data from the Department of Forestry and Fire Management suggests the state is on track to beat that this year.
Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said she and the Democrats who voted for the plan appreciate the fast action. Approval comes even as firefighers are still battling a number of active blazes.
That includes the Telegraph Fire near Globe, which as of Friday morning had consumed 176,122 acres and 51 structures and was just 72% contained. While the nearby Mescal Fire at 72,250 acres is listed as fully contained, the Pinnacle Fire southeast of those is just 10% contained.
There also are a series of smaller active blazes.
But Rios, at the signing ceremony, said there are other realities that need to be addressed.
“Unfortunately, Arizona remains in a decades-long drought and is experiencing more extreme heat,” she said. “These extreme wildfires are likely not going away any time in our lifetime.”
House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said he was glad this $100 million package was approved with support from both sides of aisle.
“We must do what we are doing today to react to this emergency,” he said. But Bolding said the action can’t stop here, saying it has to serve as a “wake-up call.”
“Climate change is real,” he said, saying it poses a “near-term and long-term threat to our public health, safety and prosperity as a state.
“We must also do everything in our power to mitigate the crisis for future generations,” Bolding continued. “And we must do that together.”
Ducey, in signing the measure into law, acknowledged the comments but was noncommittal.
“Now, there’s always going to be more work to be done,” he said. “All the leaders that came to the podium touched on that.”
The governor left the ceremony without taking questions.
Ducey has a mixed record on the issue of climate change. In 2015, the governor said that, after being briefed by experts, he is convinced the climate is changing.
“It’s going to get warmer here,” he said at the time. “What I am skeptical about is what human activity has to do with it.”
By 2019 he was willing to put aside that skepticism. The governor told Capitol Media Services it only makes sense that people, and what they do, are having an impact.
“Humans are part of the earth, the environment and the ecosystem,” he said. But action was a different issue.
“The skepticism isn’t so much around causes,” he said. “It’s around suggested remedies.”
But Ducey has shown no interest in changing Arizona laws and regulations to reduce greenhouse gases.
In that 2019 interview, Ducey rejected the idea Arizona should adopt California-style limits on vehicle emissions, which are tougher than those required by federal law. While originally instituted to fight smog, manufacturers have since agreed with California to increase fuel efficiency, a move that would reduce all emissions, including greenhouse gases.
“I think you can have a growing economy and an improving environment,” the governor said. “What’s what we’re having in Arizona versus what California’s having, which is a mass exodus.”
On Friday, press aide C.J. Karamargin said the views of his boss have not changed. And he said Ducey remains opposed to tightening vehicle emission standards even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says transportation sources are the largest source of greenhouse gases, exceeding electricity generation and industrial sources.
Karamargin said the governor believes things like the state’s balanced energy portfolio and the actions already being taken by utilities to reduce reliance on electricity generated from carbon-based sources put the state on a path to achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions without additional regulations.
He also said Arizona has moved to become a hub for the manufacture of electric vehicles as another solution to reducing emissions.
About $75 million of the new law will be used to directly fight fires and help communities prepare for the flooding that can happen when monsoon rains hit charred landscape. The balance is largely earmarked for programs to thin vegetation and brush around communities, much of that using $1-an-hour inmate labor.