Time to Keep the Good Times Rolling – Again

Written by Stephen Anderson

Stephen Anderson is a veteran zoning and land use attorney at the law firm Gammage & Burnham. His experience extends to due diligence and acquisitions related to utilities, transportation, and retail and residential projects. Stephen serves on the Board of Directors for Arizona Forward. 

Good government is often invisible. It goes about its business without much notice or fanfare. Such is the role of the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG). Through the Regional Transportation Plan, and funding from a county transportation sale tax, MAG plans our freeway and regional transportation systems years into the future with investments made in identified priorities and improvements. The Loop 202 (South Mountain Freeway) and light rail’s expanded reach farther east across Mesa to Gilbert Road are two of the most prominent, recent examples to join the system, but they are two giants among a cornucopia of transportation projects. Patiently and quietly, our metropolitan infrastructure grows to meet our growing needs.

None of MAG’s work occurs without public oversight and input. And right now, there’s a lot of public oversight underway for two big, connected reasons.

The first reason is that our sales tax only keeps going if we, the voters, say so. Maricopa County residents first consented to this tax when they approved Proposition 300 back in 1985 (a lot us, including me, weren’t here yet – and neither were State Route51, Loop 101, 202 or 303). That tax was good for 20 years, so in 2004, we (yep, I had been here a long time by then) approved Proposition 400, extending the existing tax for another 20 years. If you check your calendar, that 20-year deadline is coming up here again, and so Maricopa County voters can expect to see the Proposition extension on the ballot as early as November 2022. If we’re happy with the work that’s been done to date —over $12 billion worth so far —then we ought to approve another extension of the tax, and keep the good work going.

The second reason for the heightened public engagement is the development of the Regional Transportation Plan, the document that guides how we spend the tax money. MAG doesn’t decide what projects to invest in on its own. We tell them what we would like to see. That public input process into the Regional Transportation Plan is underway right now. It’s called MOMENTUM: https://www.ourmomentumplan.com/. MAG staff is gathering your comments for the next Regional Transportation Plan. That includes freeways, light rail, major surface streets, buses and dial-a-ride, bicycle routes, safety – you name it, it’s probably on the table. We obviously can’t do everything, so this is the part where we collectively identify what really matters, which projects are the most important ones to be covered by future tax revenues. MAG has lots of ways for you to join the conversation, and if those avenues for comment aren’t convenient, MAG can make arrangements to meet with your group if you like.

So you tell MAG what you think: then what happens? Who are these MAG people anyway? Really, they’re us. As the name suggests, the Maricopa Association of Governments is just that: the elected leaders of every city and town, county, and Native nation in the region. At the moment, Mayor Jerry Weiers of the City of Glendale is the Chair of the MAG Regional Council, and Mayor Kate Gallego of the City of Phoenix is Chair of the Transportation Policy Committee. Our locally elected leaders will be the next-to-last folks who make the final decisions about what projects make up the Regional Transportation Plan. Of course, the final decision rests with us, the voters, when we consider an extension of the sales tax in 2022.

The Valley of the Sun continues to attract new residents and new businesses alike. One important reason is our continued, collective effort to plan, invest, and build our infrastructure in a responsible manner. Our freeways, streets, buses and rails are the direct fruits of those plans and investments, but our strong economy, our strong growth, and our strong communities are the real yields of those investments. I would encourage you to participate in MAG’s MOMENTUM process, to keep an eye on the Regional Transportation Plan development, and, if you think things have been running smoothly, vote to approve the sales tax extension to continue our quiet-but-critical investment in our community.

Invest in infrastructure to help slow climate change

Written by Jane Marks and Bruce Hungate

Jane Marks and Bruce Hungate are professional scientists who conduct research about how climate changes alters the carbon cycle of natural ecosystems, like forests, grasslands, lakes and rivers. Marks is President of Flagstaff Create, and Hungate is Board Member of Arizona Forward.

The economy took a big hit during the pandemic, and emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere dipped 16%. The same kind of dip in emissions, though smaller, happened during the 2008-2009 economic downturn. For as long as humans have relied on fossil fuels, economic activity has been tightly tethered to CO2 emissions.

These modest emissions reductions from severe economic downturns had virtually no effect on CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, a 1500 trillion-ton gorilla of cumulative emissions. It will be slow to turn around. As a consequence, as we all sheltered in place, missed friends and loved ones, and suffered many other losses, the climate kept on changing anyway.

Minimizing emissions by staying home feels like it should have helped more than it did. But along with driving less, we also need to transition to a new kind of car. Along with using less coal-derived electricity, we need to change from fossil fuels to clean energy. The sooner we transition, the sooner we will reap the benefits, and the sooner the challenge of our impending split from fossil fuels will become smaller.

Investment in clean energy will boost the economy. Before the pandemic, economic growth in clean energy was 70% higher than the overall economy and 250% higher than fossil fuel jobs. In particular, solar and wind installation were two of the fastest growing occupations in the country. In Arizona alone, small-scale solar has jumped around 60%, the fourth highest of all 50 states. The momentum toward clean energy is strong and seems inevitable. Even in 2020 during the pandemic, U.S. clean energy showed solid growth. Sales of electric vehicles were steady, while total car sales fell. Solar and wind power had banner years.

New federal investment in clean energy enjoys strong public support. According to a recent poll, support for the government taking action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy in the United States stands at 84%. That’s a lot of support. 84% of Americans don’t agree on very much, but we agree on federal support for clean energy.

There is strong support in Arizona, too, and the support is bipartisan, with 3 out of 5 Republicans in favor of creating jobs by updating infrastructure and reducing pollution, promoting the development of energy-efficient buildings and appliances, and incentivizing the development of renewable energy like wind and solar. Combined with reduced operations at the Four Corners Power Plant and loss of jobs from the closure of Navajo Generating Station, investing now in new clean energy is even more vital for our region.

Investing in physical infrastructure also requires investing in human capital, providing education and training for former fossil fuel workers and communities transitioning to clean energy. Investments in clean energy now will provide economic stability and will help mitigate climate change impacts.

Investment in infrastructure is a win for jobs, putting people to work and making Arizona businesses more competitive. It’s a win for nature, preserving clean air and water.  And, it is a win for decarbonizing: this investment will help untie the knot between CO2 emissions and a healthy economy, where the economy can grow while emissions decline.


Op-Ed Climate Action by Lori Singleton

Written by Lori Singleton, President & CEO

Published in the Phoenix Business Journal on March 5, 2021

With record shattering heat waves this summer, the worst wildfire season ever in the West, raging wildfires, relentless drought, and the COVID public health emergency, racial justice issues and attacks on our democracy, Arizona has faced unprecedented threats to its health and economy.

Reduced water flow from the Colorado River could impact millions of Arizonans who depend on the river for their water supply. Drought is more prevalent and lasts longer. Wildfires across the West are increasingly destructive amid drier, hotter conditions. And experts agree, things are only going to get worse — if we don’t act with bold, urgent action.

There could not be a better time – the elections are behind us, 2021 is here, and we are optimistic. Yet, we have a long road ahead to get things back on track. Current and future state and federal leaders must consider not only short-term relief to families, but also ways to kickstart our economy in the months ahead. Together, we have a unique opportunity to strengthen Arizona and make it better and more resilient.

With more than 50 years of history as an organization working on environmental issues in our state, Arizona Forward is continuing to lead the charge for sustainability in Arizona. Now more than ever, as Arizona continues to grow and more people and businesses call Arizona home, it is important that we work together to protect our resources and communities.

Arizona Forward hosted a series of conversations with business leaders in our community, focused on the environment and economy in Arizona. Water shortages, drought, clean energy, and impacts on our military were discussed. As well, we highlighted Arizona’s corporations, municipalities, architects and universities who are implementing future-focused and impactful climate action strategies – APS, SRP, Intel, Wells Fargo, Cox Communications, ASU, the cities of Tempe, Flagstaff, Tucson and Phoenix. What emerged from those conversations was clear: The business community in Arizona, like the community at large, cares deeply about these issues. Being proactive on issues facing our environment makes good sense, and is good for our quality of life, our health, and our economy.

What’s more, the public’s desire for climate action is real and transcends party lines. Four in five Arizona voters (78%) say it should be a priority for the U.S. to pass legislation to address climate change, including 44% who say it should be a top priority. Two out of three Arizonans support moving to 100% clean energy.

What’s next? With climate change at the forefront of Arizona Forward’s priorities, it is time that we set long-term sustainability outcomes for the state which are aggressive, yet achievable and encompass environmental, social and sustainability goals. Arizona’s sustainable future cannot be optimally achieved by any one elected official, municipality, corporation or non-profit. It can only be realized through cooperative and collaborative partnerships of communities, businesses, local, regional, state, and federal governments — all united behind a common set of goals.

The impacts of climate change for Arizona are real and pressing. Working collectively, we all have the power, the knowledge and the innovative thinking to ensure a better future. Our state, our businesses and our communities depend on the work we do today. Let’s get started.

Why Intel is investing in the Verde River to support Verde Valley farmers… and all Arizonans

Written by Aaron Blawn, Intel Corporation, Corporate Services Manager

Arizona Forward Board Member Aaron Blawn is Corporate Services Site Manager for Intel in Arizona, where he oversees engineering and operations of mechanical, electrical, water, waste systems, and more for the technology manufacturer’s Ocotillo campus.

When I moved to Arizona in the 1990s I learned the Hohokam were the first to receive irrigation water through ditches and canals in Arizona more than a thousand years ago. In fact, the system they engineered was the largest and most sophisticated in the Americas.

Fast forward to today, and many property owners in Arizona’s Verde Valley, still receive their water through earthen ditches, even though estimates show the ditches can lose more than 10% of the water they carry through evaporation and seepage. Water from the 185-mile long Verde River is a major source of drinking water for not only the Verde Valley but also metropolitan Phoenix, where I’ve worked for the last twenty-five years at Intel’s facility in Chandler.

Intel has manufactured its technology in Chandler for forty years. In that time, we’ve made many investments in water conservation projects, including the Ocotillo brine reduction facility, a partnership between Intel and the City of Chandler. But our latest water conservation investment is more than 100 miles north of our newest factory, Fab 42, in Camp Verde.

Intel’s investment with The Nature Conservancy, will enclose a section of the Camp Verde’s Eureka ditch on the Verde River to reduce water loss, lower maintenance costs, and provide for more reliable water delivery to the more than 200 property owners who depend on the ditch to irrigate land and crops

Intel’s support for projects like the Eureka ditch conversion are a part of our efforts to restore 100% of the water we use globally. So far, Intel has invested in a total of 13 projects that will restore close to 800 million gallons of water to support Arizona’s water resources, with partners like the Watershed Management Group, Trout Unlimited, the National Forest Foundation, Arizona Land and Water Trust,and of course, The Nature Conservancy. Over the last two years, the projects Intel has supported in the U.S. have already restored approximately one billion gallons of water to our local watersheds.

As a board member of Arizona Forward, I get to work with other like-minded organizations focused on creating a resilient and sustainable place for all of us to live. It’s important that we work together, because Intel is just one company. Amplifying the important work of our nonprofit partners and engaging with other companies to increase participation in sustainability initiatives is so critical. We are so much stronger together.

Learn more about Intel’s sustainability contribution here:

Intel Reaches 1 Billion Gallons of Water Restored