By Kyla Pearce and Kelly Richmond
Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter held an Environmental Day at the Arizona State Capitol building Wednesday afternoon, hosting calls for action from legislators, environmental groups from around the valley and Arizona high school students.
At the capitol, environmental activists, students from high schools in Flagstaff and Arizona state legislators gathered behind the Capitol building to address bills related to environmental concerns across Arizona.
The event’s theme, according to the Sierra Club, was “Our planet, our state, our home.” Arizona representatives spoke about several bills currently being worked on in regards to environmental policy.
Democratic House Member Jamescita Peshlakai talked about house Bill 2447, which is currently moving through the legislature. This bill, if put into action, would prohibit the state from issuing or renewing tribal-gaming compacts with tribes that are adverse parties to water rights litigation. Peshlakai said this bill would compromise tribal water rights.
“Arizona, like many other states in our country, has failed to conserve, has failed to plan and has failed all of us,” Peshlakai said. “Holding people economically hostage for their water is absolutely immoral.”
Peshlakai said she thinks the bill is unlikely to pass, but used it as a warning to Arizona citizens. If people are not vigilant in watching their legislators and the bills being created, bills could be passed unchallenged, she said.
She also spoke about the relation of climate change, a hot topic at the event, to the Navajo creation story. She called the Navajo creation stories and ceremonies “history interwoven with faith and spirituality,” speaking about the impact of climate change on those important parts of her culture.
“Climate change impacts that,” she said about her cultural practices. “These things (environmental issues) all impact everything around us and impact our ceremonies.”
Following Peshlakai, Democratic Representative Mitzi Epstein spoke about Bill 2338, which would appropriate $400,000 for trees for schools. She referred to the bill as “a little bit of social justice, a little bit of air quality and some extreme heat reduction.”
“This bill will give preference to schools that have the most need for trees and that tends to be low-income areas,” Epstein said.
According to Epstein, trees help prevent the effects of ground-level ozone, a pollutant that can cause health problems, trigger asthma and act as a “sunburn on your lungs.”
Along with these bills, Epstein talked about Democratic house member Kirsten Engel’s plan for resiliency bill, or Bills 2564 and 2565.
Bill 2564 would establish a group to develop a resilience plan for Arizona human populations and natural and economic systems.
Bill 2565 would develop a similar plan with a focus on greenhouse gas emissions, working to develop a statewide greenhouse gas emissions inventory.
Hazel Chandler, a member of Elders Climate Action and Union of Concerned Scientists, talked about the importance of advocating for environmental action. As a member of the Elders Climate Action, she spoke about the importance of people of every age fighting for environmental action.
“Make our voices heard, talk, be loud, be out there,” Chandler said. “This is a climate emergency and, as Greta (Gerwig) says, our house is on fire and we have to act like it.”
Chandler spoke for many environmental advocates at the event when she stressed the importance of bringing generations together in voting to make a difference. The Sierra Club’s Environmental Day, which included people of all ages, was a representation of her hopes for the future.