Arizona Republican legislators assume energy policy mandate amid resistance from environmentalists and public utilities

Energy Environment

The lawmakers affiliated with the Republican Party are pushing to take over energy regulation and setting policies in the western state of Arizona. As more states in the United States scale up their renewable energy capacity at the expense of fossil fuels, the Governor of Arizona and the legislature are opposed to the strategy. Arizona was among the first states to roll out renewable energy targets, aiming to get 15 % of its energy supply from clean sources by 2024. However, as the lawmakers take the policy-making mandate to their hands, environmentalists worry that it could interfere with the green energy ambitions of the state.

“Why in the world would the Legislature want to get in the way of something that is so clearly good for our economy and the benefits the climate as well as air quality, saves water?” commented Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club Director for the Arizona Chapter. The Republican-dominated Legislature passed a bill to strip the Arizona Corporation Commission of its mandate in energy policy and give lawmakers authority. The bill is being debated in Senate, and if approved, it will change the state’s energy atmosphere. Those in favor of the bill argue that ditching fossil fuels will lead to higher utility bills and needs to be decided by 90 lawmakers rather than five commission members.

“The Legislature is the best venue for setting energy policy due to our broader representation of the people, and our deliberative process is far more transparent,” said Senator Sine Kerr, a Republican who sponsored one of the bills. Kerr noted that the utilities’ primary role is to provide energy to all of Arizona without costly and restrictive mandates. He added that regardless of who is making energy policies, access to affordable power is the goal without removing specific energy sources from the mix.

Those against the bill have pointed out to the state’s constitution mandates energy regulation to the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC). The commission is in charge of regulating utilities and consists of elected officials well-informed on energy issues. Although energy policies are set by the nation’s lawmakers, few states, including Arizona, have elected regulators to stand in the docket.

If the bill is passed, utilities will be required to invest in battery storage and energy efficiency techniques such as thermostats. In a separate case, the Supreme Court in Arizona is judging a decision by a lower court mandating the ACC with absolute authority to set energy standards. Lawmakers are crossing their fingers to have the decision revised in their favor.

“To me, much of this is about the Legislature saying they are the sole branch of government,” said Autumn Johnson, a government affairs manager for Western Resource Advocates. Governor Doug Ducey has been vocal about ACC’s misplaced role in the energy sector. “I want to see the Corporation Commission setting rates. And I want to see the state Legislature setting energy policy. And I hope we can straighten that out this legislative session,” he said.

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