October 4, 2008

Gov. Napolitano Backs Climate Initiative Provision in Honeywell Settlement

By Jeremy Duda

A group of South Phoenix lawmakers hoping to change part of an environmental-damage settlement between the state and Honeywell may not find a receptive ear if they take their concerns to the Governor's Office.

Gov. Janet Napolitano threw her support behind a provision in the settlement that called for Honeywell to put $1 million into the Western Climate Initiative, a collaborative effort between 11 Western U.S. states and Canadian provinces. The money that Honeywell gives to the WCI is in addition to $5 million that will be used to clean up environmental damage caused by the company's manufacturing plant near Sky Harbor International Airport.

Lawmakers from District 16, where the state alleges that Honeywell illegally dumped chemicals into the sewer system, and a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission are asking the Department of Environmental Quality and Attorney General Terry Goddard to re-evaluate the portion of the settlement that will be directed to the WCI.

Napolitano, however, stood by the proposed settlement.

"I think the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has responded to that already," she said Oct. 1 during her weekly press briefing. "There's a significant overlap between (greenhouse gases) and overall air quality, and that affects everybody's public health."

Democratic Reps. Cloves Campbell Jr. and Ben Miranda and Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, all of District 16, and Republican Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce drafted a letter to Goddard and DEQ Director Steve Owens asking that the $1 million destined for the WCI's cap-and-trade program instead be used to repair environmental damage in the area around the Honeywell plant.

"We believe the money should stay within the local community where the majority of the environmental violations occurred," the letter states. "To do otherwise raises significant environmental justice concerns for the community that has borne the brunt of these violations throughout the years."

The cap-and-trade program would allow businesses to buy and sell credits for their greenhouse-gas emissions. The program aims to cut greenhouse-gas emissions in the region by 15 percent by 2020.

"It is very common in DEQ settlements ... that the perpetrator is required to pay some into an environmental program that is not significantly related to the particular harm, but has more general application. So this is part of that process," Napolitano said.

Those statements seem to put Napolitano at odds with the group. Prior to the governor's press briefing, Campbell said he hoped Napolitano's stance would be closer to that of the District 16 lawmakers.

"We're hoping that it will be in accordance with ours," he said.

None of the lawmakers felt their efforts would be complicated by the fact that they are trying to take the money from a program that Napolitano has supported.

"The constituents that I represent are also hers too, and her concern is there," Landrum Taylor said.

Campbell said they would lobby Napolitano on their proposed change to the settlement.

"We've got a good relationship with the governor, and I don't think it will strain our relationship to hopefully get our views across to her. She's been receptive to everything we've talked about in the past, so I don't think we'll have any problems talking with the governor," he said. "She won't lose any of my support, and I think it's vice-versa. But it's just something that we should definitely be able to talk about."

In their letter, the lawmakers said some of them support the WCI, but the merits of the program have no relevance to the situation. They feel that the residents of the affected area would see a greater benefit from a supplemental environmental project in their own community.

Miranda said the Wilson School District area probably would be the best recipient of the $1 million. Any change to the settlement would have to be approved by Honeywell, DEQ and Goddard before it's brought before the court.

"I think any time people differ on how money should be expended, then it calls for everyone to reassess their position, and then for ultimately the decision-maker to be informed and make the appropriate decision. In this case, the decision-maker is the court," Miranda said.

Originally published by Jeremy Duda.

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