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March 21, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Arizona Poverty

  |   Video
  • Arizona has a higher rate of poverty and income inequality than most other states. Steve Seleznow, President & CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation, will discuss Arizona poverty.
  • Steve Seleznow - President & CEO, Arizona Community Foundation
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: arizona, poverty, economy, income, ,

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Ted Simons: Arizona's poverty rate is the highest in the nation and the state also ranks higher Than the national average for children in poverty. I spoke to Steve Seleznow, president and CEO of the Arizona community foundation, about poverty in Arizona.

And thank you so much for joining us tonight on "Arizona Horizon."

Steve Seleznow: Thank you. Pleased to be here.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about -- there is so much here. Let's talk about poverty. The poverty rate in Arizona. Where we stand right now.

Steve Seleznow: Well, first of all, let me say that what I want to share with you is that Arizona has many attributes and assets. And whenever you have a discussion about poverty, you tend to ignore the really great elements of a place or a state. I think we're all fortunate to live here. There are some areas where we really need to focus on. And I think we really need to look hard at the data that we have available to us to help us make the best possible choices that we can make as a state. If you look at most of the indicators around social health and poverty, and you look at how we rank and compare to other states across the country, and the vast majority of those nationally validated indicators, we typically end in the bottom 10% of all states. The lowest five. Not on every indicator. But on most indicators around children, most indicators around social health, and it's disturbing data that we have to confront, and come up with the right policy solutions to help address them.

Ted Simons: 5th highest poverty rate in the U.S. Arizona kids in poverty, higher than the national average. 5th worst conditions for kids and families. These are some of the things you mentioned and presented by looking at facts and figures. Why are we there?

Well, I think if you look at this historically, and it is very important that we look at data over long periods of time. You can't just look at what happens as a result of the 08' recession. Because I think there are trends that we can learn if we go back 20,30 years. But on some of the areas where you would invest in human capital, we have chosen as a state not to make investments that others have made. So, most people know about the level of investment in K-12. And if you look back 30 years, it has declined repeatedly over that period of time. If you look at investment in higher ed or in community colleges, it is very low. Now, that doesn't cause poverty. But what it does is it helps children out of poverty. And so we know from all of the economic research and it has been validated, if you invest in children early, and you invest in education, all of the way through the pipeline, you break the cycle of poverty in families. So, if you get one kid to college that is from a poor family, you break the cycle of poverty in that family. Education is a key factor in changing conditions for poverty and it has always been that case in the United States. It has been really the driver of our great economy.

Ted Simons: The per capita income in Arizona, 14% lower than the U.S. average. Again, has it always been that way? Is it changing for the worst, for the better?

Steve Seleznow: It has declined over the last several years, acutely declined over the last five or six years. And so when you look at per capita income, you have to think about the impact on tax revenue. So, if we want to grow the state, want to build our economy, the state wants to make certain investments to do that. If our work force is not properly educated, if our per capita income is going down as a result of kids who are not graduating high school or graduating high school not ready for post secondary or not ready for jobs, they're not going to produce tax revenue. And so, 30 years from now, or in the year , we're going to have a real crisis of producing enough revenue if we can't produce the work force that can be higher paid, higher skilled.

Ted Simons: How do we produce that work force? How do we get them the education when -- and there are some who argue this -- that there is a cultural problem here? We can't get moms and dads to make sure that junior and SIS are going to school.

Steve Seleznow: I think that is critically important. I think that education requires parents to be involved and parents to be engaged. But that is not a reason not to invest in children and schools. You want families to engage. You want families to set the right moral structure and right values and right patterns and habits. But if they don't, you don't give up on the kids. And it has been proven all over the country and in this state that you can still break that cycle of poverty. You can still take poor children, hold very high expectations of them and get them to college. We run the largest scholarship program in the state. We sent thousands of kids to college who come from poverty. They're what we want in our work force. They're going to drive our economy. We know that with the right supports, the right education, the right scholarships, the right early learning experience, the highest quality, that we can start to break that systematically.

Ted Simons: There is another matrix here regarding income inequality. Arizona, I think surprisingly to some, ranks very high in terms of inequality there. How important a measurement is that?

Steve Seleznow: It is important in a number of ways. This is not a political issue. Often we talk about income inequality associated with one political party or another. It is not that. It is not the rich versus the poor. Because in Arizona, and I know this running the community foundation, the wealthy of Arizona are enormously generous givers. Even through the recession, when many of those families lost a great deal of wealth, they continued to give to charitable causes at the same rates they gave before the recession. Income inequality is not rich versus poor, it is not republican versus democrat. It is just the data about income inequality that has been proven globally and also applies in this country. So, the United States has the largest income inequality gap of any country on earth. And when you look at the United States, Arizona is second highest income inequality gap in the United States. When you look at the research that has been done on income inequality, what you find is there is a very strong association between income inequality and social health indicators. The higher the income inequality, the greater rates of infant mortality, of obesity, of incarceration, unemployment, homicides. I could go through the whole list. Income inequality actually produces poor social health outcomes. And so, that doesn't mean that the rich shouldn't be rich or that those who are not rich shouldn't seek to earn higher wages. It means that we have got to look at the impact that the data show us about what income inequality associates with with respect to the quality of life we want in Arizona.

Ted Simons: So, when you look at that data, all of the data we have talked about this evening, what is the bottom line, what do you think that leaders in Arizona need to take from these facts?

Steve Seleznow: Well, I think the most important thing is that we confront the brutal facts. You can't lead based on mythological ideas or perceptions about the quality of life or the social condition. You have to really confront the facts. And I think the dialogue that we have in this state and the debate that we have about what is the right policy set should be driven first by what are the facts? What is the data? And the Arizona community foundation, in concert with the Morrison institute at ASU, created Arizona indicators. It is a public utility with data of area of concern in the state, from education, to corrections, to environmental quality, water quality, economic development, manufacturing. You name the data. We have to start with data, confront it, agree on what the data are telling us and then debate and fight over what is the right policy.

Ted Simons: I was going to say real quickly, how do you do that? How can you keep the fight on the up and up here, without the idea --

Steve Seleznow: You saw the ideological problem. If we can get the facts and the data that can be trusted and look at them from multiple sources. Not just one source. Not just certain politically biased think tanks, but we look at the best, most validated data that we collect here in this state. Then I think we can move past the -- let's agree on this data and fight about the way to solve this problem and that is the right place for values and -- to play out. The political debate, once you are working off a common set of facts we can all agree to.

Ted Simons: Fascinating, sobering information. Good to have you here. Thank you for joining us.

Steve Seleznow: Thank you, my pleasure.

New EPA Haze Regulations

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  • New Environmental Protection Agency regulations on haze have some Arizona leaders saying that the regulations could lead to higher energy costs and a loss of jobs. State lawmakers want to allow states to set air standard regulations. Sandy Bahr of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club and Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne will discuss the issue of haze regulation.
  • Sandy Bahr - Grand Canyon Chapter, Sierra Club
  • Tom Horne - Attorney General, Arizona
Category: Energy   |   Keywords: arizona, EPA, energy, regulations, law, haze,

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Ted Simons: Arizona attorney general Tom Horne yesterday filed another challenge to federal regulations regarding haze Over Arizona. This latest action asks the circuit court of appeals To prevent the implementation Of EPA rules affecting Arizona coal-fired power plants. Joining us now to explain his opposition to the EPA rules Is state attorney general Tom Horne. And here to speak in support Of the EPA regulations is Sandy Bahr of the Sierra club's Grand Canyon chapter. Good to see you both here.

Tom Horne: Sandy Bahr: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Motion for the stay here in the 9th cirucuit? Why? --

Tom Horne: So that utilities don’t have to spend money that they don’t already have to spend--

Ted Simons: What do you want the courts to consider as far as the merits of the case?

Tom Horne: The big thing is cost versus benefit. Cost $ million to the utilities, which means all of our rates will go up substantially. Benefits, none. The -- the visibility is measured in deciviews, the lowest that I have seen, discernible to the eye, is one deciview, the EPA standard. A study showing the difference between their system and the federal system would be 0.5 deciviews -- human beings would not be able to see the difference that would cost over 500 $ million.

Ted Simons: What does the EPA want? What are they calling for.

Sandy Bahr: First of all, the provisions that EPS is finally enforcing go back about years. They're part of the clean air act. And the provisions in the clean air act called for cleaning up regional haze around our pristine national parks, monuments, wilderness areas, places like the Grand Canyon, and so what they're saying is that these power plants need to install modern pollution control equipment, equipment that has been installed on power plants across the country, including in Arizona. And clean up the pollution, which does affect haze at these national parks. But also in reducing this pollution, which is nitrogen oxide, primarily, it will help improve public health as well. And that is one of the things that often gets lost in the discussion about clean-up of these facilities.

Ted Simons: What is wrong with those kind of regulations?

Tom Horne: Well, as far as the haze or the view goes, I would be -- if it made the air cleaner. As I pointed out, it is not PERCEPTIBLE to the human eye. EPA had a standard -- they reduced that to 15 micro grams per cubic meter. Here there is no evidence as to any quantity here. What they have said is they claim it would be help, but for the purpose of this action, we are not authorized to consider the health benefits and we have not done so. There has been no showing that there will be any measurable improvement to health benefits. It may be that the amount of pollutant is below the standard set for the country now of 12 micrograms per cubic meter--

I’ve heard the number like 300$ million a year in health costs-- where does the number come from?

Sandy Bahr: That's correct. There have been several economic analysis, including by the EPA but also independent economic analysis and the -- first of all, the cost that -- as far as the rates go, increase in rates, utilities are really exaggerating. That is clear from the economic analysis. And also the health care benefits are some things that were evaluated by independent entities. Clean air task force, for example, looked at how many lives would be saved, looked at asthma attacks, bronchitis, emergency room visits. And then the total cost, clean air health cost force looked at that as well, and it was about 314$ million in health costs for these three plants alone. So, there are health benefits-- you can't argue that reducing nitrogen oxide is not going to help public health. It contributes to smog. That is one of the most dangerous pollutants that we have. And, you know, ask people who live in and around some of these plants that have suffered from the pollution whether they think it is not an issue.

Ted Simons: But it sounds like Arizona has adopted standards. Arizona has its own plan. What is wrong with that plan?

Sandy Bahr: First of all, after 35 years, EPA finally decided to implement this and so there is plenty of time for people to know it was coming. But then, the department of environmental quality was over three years late in submitting a plan, and their plan was weak. Their plan did not address regional haze. It did not require modern pollution control equipment, and that would really show benefits relative to regional haze. It is discernible. The EPA had to look at five factors. The EPA did do an economic analysis to make sure that this was something that was practical. And that is why they went forward with it.

Ted Simons: The idea that Arizona put itself in this position because they were late and came in weak.

Tom Horne: On the contrary. Actually the Arizona plan was filed and the EPA had certain amount of time to object and they didn't object. The Arizona plan took effect by operation of law. Then the EPA went into court and entered into a consent judgment with a friendly plaintiff, which involved some conspiracy that is being looked at to require some different deadlines, and they have come back and said something -- two things missing in the Arizona plan. Very minor things. Disagreed with our cost estimate because we included some things that they do not have in their form. The things that we included clearly are costs, but they say their form bring uniformity to the country-- the guidelines say that you should have accurate costs, not necessarily uniform costs. So, actually as far as timing goes, EPA was late to object and Arizona's plan was adopted by operation of law because the EPA failed to object.

Ted Simons: What do you make of that?

Sandy Bahr: I want to address using a word like conspiracy, so inappropriate coming from the attorney general. Obviously there was no conspiracy. We had to push EPA to implement this, right? There was litigation that was filed to get them to move forward with implementing the clean air act. Something, again, that has been 35 years in the making. So, I think that, you know, using that term is inappropriate. The other thing I want to mention is the state is acting on behalf of the big utilities on this, and, you know, I think that they should be acting on the behalf of clean air and the citizens of the state. Especially the department of environmental quality. They're supposed to be the lead agency for clean air, and, yet, they submitted a weak plan, and now they're -- now they're filing lawsuits along with the utilities to keep us from getting more clean-up and for improving visibility and improving public health.

Ted Simons: What about the argument if these regulations go into effect, I believe -- hurt rate payers, lose power all together, rural areas -- some plants might close down and jobs lost in the process. A lot of ramifications there. How do you respond?

Sandy Bahr: Well, it is easy to throw out those kinds of comments when there is -- there is no one to do an analysis. There has been an economic, independent economic analysis relative to these facilities, and the claims that they're making are overblown. If they really thought that they were going to have to shut them down, they would have -- they could have demonstrated that in their comments, and EPA would have had to respond to that. EPA did have to look at the economic analysis, and they determined that this was economically viable. Other facilities have done it. Why can't these facilities?

Tom Horne: Well, you know, first of all, I wants to point out the state takes position that comports with the facts. Fact is ther is no quantification of a health benefit. Another important quote from the EPA, we do not believe it is necessary or appropriate to quantify the extent of the health benefit because we are not relying upon health effects in the promulgation of this rule. If there was a health benefit, they would have quantified it. We are dealing with limits below what they say is a safe limit. There are no health benefits. With respect to the costs, costs were calculated at $558 million. The state plan cost between 237 and 445$ per ton of material removed. Federal plan, ten times that, 2,405$ to 3,331$, per ton for no benefit. It is a -- they are talking about imposing enormous costs for no benefit. It is the absolute typical irrational government action imposing huge costs on people for no benefit.

Ted Simons: Why do you think they're doing it?

Tom Horne: I think there is an agenda to do away with coal. A lot of power plants will have to shut down all over the country if these kind of regulations go into effect. In -- Cochise County, they believe their utility would go down -- when I was there, they told me they were looking at 200$ per person added to the electric bill, unsustainable.

Sandy Bahr: That agenda started in when these provisions -- the agenda is to clean up some of our national icons, and it does make a difference, and the number he is using is not the EPA number. The other thing, Grand Canyon, petrified forest -- these places, they contribute to our economy. Contribute to jobs. Millions of dollars, and it is not-- it is not just those national parks, but other, national monument -- a lot of visitors, a lot to the economy of our area and there are discernible health benefits. Because EPA focused on regional haze does not mean there are not health benefits from reducing nitrogen oxide. Common sense tells you there are health benefits from reducing it.

Tom Horne: If there were health benefits, they would have quantified them. They specifically said they will not quantify them, and the reason, whatever they are talking about is below what they determined to be a safe level with a margin for error under the regulations.

Ted Simons: Very quickly, is it worth the price, though, big price, is it worth it to clean up the air?

Tom Horne: If the air was dirty and this would clean it up, absolutely. We are talking about a huge price for no benefit. It is not discernible to the human eye. It’s like a caricature of irrational government conduct --

Ted Simons: Very, very quickly, is it worth it to lose jobs and have rates go sky high in order to get this EPA regulation?

Sandy Bahr: Neither one of those are going to happen. Their claims are incorrect. Rates are not going to go sky high because of it and you can have a lot of jobs created by cleaning up these plants and transitioning to clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency --

Tom Horne: The standards just came out very recently. Over the course of 30 years, Arizona has been working closely with the EPA to clean up the air. We want clean air.

Ted Simons: We all want clean air. We have to stop it there. Good discussion. Good to have you both here. Thank you for joining us.

Tom Horne: Sandy Bahr: Thank you.