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May 14, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Focus on Sustainability: Maricopa County Sustainability

  |   Video
  • Maricopa County has launched a new phase of its six-year-old Green Government Program. The county has implemented hundreds of green measures, such as recycling, energy conservation and installing four megawatts of solar panels. Jonce Walker, the sustainability manager for the county, will talk about sustainability efforts by the county.
  • Jonce Walker - Sustainability Manager, Maricopa County
Category: Sustainability   |   Keywords: focus, sustainability, maricopa,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Our Focus on Sustainability tonight looks at Maricopa County's "Green Government" program, an effort that involves hundreds of measures including recycling, energy conservation and the increased use of solar power. Jonce Walker is the county's sustainability manager, here to give us a better definition of the "Green Government" program.

Jonce Walker: The "Green Government" program started back in 2007; actually, we're on our third version now. What it is, it's a comprehensive policy document that kind of leads by example in terms of sustainability. Getting all our ducks in a row so we can lean in terms of sustainability.

Ted Simons: And it reads, no sustainable way to conduct the county's business. Expand on that.

Jonce Walker: Right, right. Looking at policy that we have done for a long time, and taking kind of a fine-tooth comb of sustainability and saying, why are things done that way, can we do them better, and how can we do things that benefit what's called the triple bottom line. The residents of Maricopa County, the employees, the economic prospective, and the environment.

Ted Simons: Define sustainability.

Jonce Walker: That's a good one. The way we define it in Maricopa County is making delicate decisions that advance what I said, the triple bottom line. For a long time we made decisions based on economics alone and ignored the social and environmental aspects. Now all three are equally important. We write policy that advances all three of those, economics, social equity and trying to find the right dynamic.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about recycling and the effectiveness there. I noticed the R-, reduce, reuse, recycle.

Jonce Walker: The mantra from the 70s.

Ted Simons: That's right. How is it going?

Jonce Walker: We own and operate about 10 million square feet of space and lots of waste comes through. We've created a single stream recycling program, kind of like what you have at your house curbside, everything goes in that bin. We do that now for the county. We were previously paying money to have things thrown in the trash, right? Now we're reselling those on the market and generating revenue for the county.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Air quality, efforts to improve air quality.

Jonce Walker: Yeah, the situation here is pretty interesting. What we've done internally is incentivized transit. The county employees have the highest folks, employees who use multimodes of transportation. We try to incent and make it easier for people to do. We have installed bike racks around to get people to use bikes, installed showers and things like that.

Ted Simons: That's outdoor air quality. What about indoor air quality?

Jonce Walker: And throughout we have a policy to build LEED buildings. LEED means Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. What that means is just building a better building, a high-performance building. We pay attention to things going inside, likes paints, to make sure there are no volatile or organic compounds that are off-gassing in the space. The finishing and the furnishing is nice. Not creating an environment that's hard to be in.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about energy efficiency and solar panels in particular. How much you got going, how much planned?

Jonce Walker: We just finish a building with four megawatts of solar installed, that includes our solar photovoltaics, which is what most people think of when they think of solar. We also do solar hot water heating for our jails. We have the largest photovoltaic system in downtown Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Interesting you say that. Whenever we talk about solar, the critics will say it's more expensive than conventional. What’s the county doing getting in this line of work.

Jonce Walker: What we did first was make sure all our buildings are efficient. We didn't want to slap solar on kind of leaky buildings. We did a massive utility grade audit, shored up the buildings and made them efficient. Then we looked at solar as kind of the icing on the cake. We think it is smart because we're going to stave off future energy rising costs. We do them, there's a lot of work that goes into making sure those projects pencil out and make sense for the taxpayers.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask, how much does all this cost, and is it even close to paying for itself?

Jonce Walker: Usually a large photovoltaic system will pay for itself within 12 to 15 years, and the panels are warrantied for about 25 years. We're doing everything to make those buildings efficient up front, and then adding solar later. Anything we can do to reduce that energy bill, about 20 million bucks per year, for the county is good business sense.

Ted Simons: What about overall costs for this "Green Government" program?

Jonce Walker: It's just myself.

Ted Simons: Well, as far as efforts, everything from getting dirt roads paved and the whole nine yard.

Jonce Walker: Exactly. When we write these measures that go into the plan, there's about of them now -- everything there is on equal footing. Economics is certainly in that scenario. All the policies and programs implemented have to have an instant return on investment, economically, it's just changing the way we do business. Let's do it this way, you save some money and make sure it's better for the sustainability pursuit. Not just economics, but creating places better for residents of Maricopa County. We think there's value in that. The number to do these measures, you know, I'm not sure what that would be. But I can tell you that just managing the loan there's been about $2 million in savings over the past four years.

Ted Simons: I noticed this was phase 3, or phase 1 and 2, were they successful? And what can we expect for phase 4?

Jonce Walker: Phase 1 and 2, phase 1 started with the leadership of Don Stapley, Maricopa County supervisor. That was written quickly, about six months to take that. It was a good first step. We needed to do quite a bit more and kind of make the document itself user friendly, really. So when version 2 came on we added social media and several other departments. The county has about 50 departments and about 25 of them are involved with the sustainability plan. In Phase 3, just more dynamic. We have a new website, It's a very transparent document.

Ted Simons: Phase 4 soon?

Jonce Walker: It takes about two years to do one.

Ted Simons: We're trying to push the profits. It’s good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Jonce Walker: Thank you.

Medicaid Expansion Report

  |   Video
  • The Grand Canyon Institute, a centrist public policy think-tank, has released a new analysis of Medicaid expansion in Arizona. The report examines three scenarios regarding Medicaid expansion over the first three full years of implementation. David Wells, research director for the institute, will talk about the report.
  • David Wells - Research Director, Grand Canyon Institute
Category: Medical/Health   |   Keywords: medicaid, medicare, medical, expansion, public policy, Grand Canyon,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The Grand Canyon Institute is a public policy think tank that's just released a new analysis of Medicaid expansion in Arizona. The report looks at the economic impact of three possible expansion scenarios. Here to tell us about the study is the Grand Canyon Institute's research director David Wells. Good to see you again, thanks for joining us.

David Wells: Thank you.

Ted Simons: What exactly did the report look at?

David Wells: A lot of conservative lawmakers are really concerned the federal government won't live up to its obligations, and they’ve also proposed about expanding Medicaid. With the Affordable Care Act and the kind of federal payments expected under it, along with Governor Brewer's expected threshold, the 80%. We compare that to continuing on what we currently have, only covering childless adults and having a freeze on enrollment. The federal government has told us as of January 1, 2014, they are not going to pay for that at all.

Ted Simons: They are not likely to pay for it, that's for sure. We're looking at three scenarios. What is the time frame for these three scenarios?

David Wells: We chose to look at fiscal years 2015, 16' and 17'. And we want to have a fair comparison because technically 2014, that runs from July 1st, 2013, to June 30th, 2014 . So the Medicare expansion Affordable Care Act kicks in on January 1st, in the middle of the fiscal year. If you look at the numbers for that, the costs for the state-only plan is pretty excessive in that one year, because you have to take over 56,000 people January 1st and start to pay for the whole thing. Medicare expansion, people will gradually start enrolling in October and start to ramp up and that's not happening so quickly.

Ted Simons: You took out the front-loaded aspect of all this.

David Wells: From a fiscal standpoint we thought it would be what we thought was a fair comparison.

Ted Simons: Let's go to the first scenario. This is a straight Affordable Care Act deal, correct?

David Wells: Again, looking at the optional expansion populations here. They come in two ways, we've got the childless adults for under 100% of the poverty line and all adults from 100% to 133% of the poverty line. In that case we find it'll cost the state about half a billion dollars. But the Governor has proposed that being funded through a hospital assessment. That's going to bring in actually a bit more than half a billion dollars. It's going to be a net plus to the general fund.

Ted Simons: No hit at all in that first scenario, the Governor's plan, and the one most businesses and hospitals are pushing.

David Wells: Right, that's correct.

Ted Simons: Second scenario. This is the Governor's plan, though, and again, the circuit breaker is at 80%.

David Wells: That's correct.

Ted Simons: Feds have to come up with at least 80% or else the whole thing falls through. What did you find there?

David Wells: Typically they are supposed pay on average of about 90%. If they pay 80%, the state's costs effective double. The assessment is going to be about a billion dollars versus a million dollars. The assessment is going to be about 575 million so it's not going to cover it. You have about $425 million that's going to have to come out of the general fund to help pay for it, or $450 million, something like that. There has to be some degree of funding to the general fund because the assessment won't be quite enough.

Ted Simons: That's not the absolutely worst case scenario, the worst case scenario is if the federal government goes bankrupt and we all run screaming into the streets.

David Wells: The conservatives are really concerned about the federal government not living up to its obligations. I think it's fair to look at what does that circuit breaker scenario look like.

Ted Simons: The third option is keeping the freeze intact. The Senate President is about ready to release a budget that has that in place. What did you find there?

David Wells: Looking at that case, we put a freeze on childless adults with the federal government's permission in July of 2011. At that time we had about 220,000 people on that list. But what happens is if you fall off of it for any reason, or because of income or any other reason, you can't get back on. That list has gone down to around 80,000 and is expected next fiscal year to be 54,000, and then down to 45,000 and it moves down. We found for the fiscal year 2015-2017 the state's going to have to pay for the whole thing. It's going to cost the state almost $900 million and there will be no hospital assessment coming in to help pay for that. That's $900 million, almost twice as much out of the general fund as what it would cost to -- in Governor Brewer's threshold case. That's just the general fund part of it.

Ted Simons: Does that take the rainy day fund, including that, does it factor that in, as well?

David Wells: Basically the rainy day fund is different, it's $450 million.

Ted Simons: Right.

David Wells: We didn't look at fiscal year 2014, that's a year that's going to cost about $200 million, compared to about $50 million. You're already using a lot of the rainy day fund.

Ted Simons: Indeed.

David Wells: And on top of that we looked at uncompensated care. There's about 200,000 people not getting health coverage if we don't expand Medicaid. Those people still get sick. When they get sick and they go for hospital care, a lot of them will wait and not get as much care. When they do, they probably won't be able to pay for it. We went through a pretty sophisticated analysis, we found there was an additional $450 million cost over those three years in add uncompensated care costs imposed on the public and private sector, hospitals, private insurance and some public hospitals.

Ted Simons: It sounds like quite a variable to factor in there. That had to be sophisticated.

David Wells: It's quite important to look at. Hospitals have already noted their percent of uncompensated care has doubled since the freeze has gone in place. The number of people not having insurance, they will simply be locked out. There are some folks above 100% of the poverty line who can get insurance through the exchange. Not as many will do that, they will have to pay 2% of their income in premium. The percentage under that would be locked out completely and uninsured.

Ted Simons: For those who say that you can't trust the Feds to live up to the deal, and if they fall through, then Arizona is stuck. There’s a lot more to it. Does the study take that kind of ideological thought into account when they look at things like this?

David Wells: That way of thinking is actually wrong. The state is allowed to pull out any time they want to. Governor Brewer said the idea is that we're going to commit. If the federal government is not able to commit 80%, then we will pull out. I think that's a pretty fair way to go about it. I really don't think the idea that we're committing to this and we somehow can't get out is just not true. If there's a problem that the federal government doesn't fund its portion, and if it's also below 80%, we just wouldn't participate or we'd have another debate about it.

Ted Simons: And that becomes a third option, does it not?

David Wells: Certainly a very viable and reasonable option.

Ted Simons: Last question. What do we take from the study?

David Wells: Ideally, legislators would look at this and say, it's a really bad idea not to expand Medicaid. The best idea is to expand Medicaid. Even under Governor Brewer's threshold of 80% payment by the federal government and 20% by the State, it's still a much better deal for taxpayers, much better deal for generally the people of Arizona. The more people with health coverage, there's less uncompensated care and more jobs. Lots of pluses happen even at the threshold level.

Ted Simons: Provided you can get past the ideological arguments against taxes and assessments and taking federal money and those sorts of things. That's a whole different study, right?

David Wells: That's the challenge of trying to get policy here in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

David Wells: I Appreciate it.

Ozone Levels Alert

  |   Video
  • Temperatures are soaring, and that brings on an increase in ozone, which is created in a chemical reaction spurred by heat. Excess ozone levels can cause health problems. Randy Cerveny, a weather expert and professor of geographical sciences at Arizona State University, will explain how ozone is formed and talk about the heat.
  • Randy Cerveny - Professor of Geographical Sciences, ASU
Category: Environment   |   Keywords: ozone, alert, environment, ASU, heat,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The state Department of Environmental Quality issued an ozone health watch and high pollution alert today. Here to tell us what ozone is and why its potential health risks are so important is Randy Cerveny, Professor of Geographical Sciences at ASU. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Randy Cerveny: My pleasure.

Ted Simons: Good to see you again. What is ozone?

Randy Cerveny: A lot of people have a misconception about ozone, because you hear about it in the national media in terms of global warming and that type of thing. When it's up at 20 to 30 miles up in the atmosphere, it's a gas that does a lot of good things for us. It absorbs ultraviolet radiation, keeps skin cancers low and keeps heat from getting near the surface of the earth. But near the surface when it is emitted by cars and cooked by the sun it is a pollutant. It is particularly bad on the lungs for people to breathe.

Ted Simons: We want more of the layer up there, we worry if it gets too low. But ozone can be made from things like car exhaust, these sorts of things?

Randy Cerveny: Right. The critical thing is that heat, the sunlight you have to cook; in essence, these substances that are coming out of the cars. In the presence of a lot of sunshine, you can take these particular pollutants that come out of vehicles and industry, and create a new oxygen molecule, three atoms of oxygen as opposed to just two. Two is what we normally breathe. Ozone is three atoms of oxygen.

Ted Simons: So what constitutes an ozone warning? Ground level ozone that gets to a certain level?

Randy Cerveny: The wind, the values of ozone as measured by a number of different monitoring sources around the Valley, get close to a particular value preset by the Environmental Protection Agency, and then we start to talk about watches and warnings. The problem is health related. When we breathe in ozone, it causes our lungs to basically toughen. It's like what happens to skin when it's exposed to solar radiation, we get leathery skin. It's harder to breathe when you get leathery lungs.

Ted Simons: Is it reversible? Is it an instant kind of a reaction?

Randy Cerveny: No, the longer you take in this ozone, the worse the condition can be. While people are going to experience problems when you have an accidence, the more accidence you have the worse it's going to be.

Ted Simons: And the more sensitive your lungs, the worse it is for you.

Randy Cerveny: Exactly. The young and elderly are particularly at risk with these watches and accidences.

Ted Simons: How often does the Valley get ozone watches and warnings?

Randy Cerveny: The critical things we need to have to have these bad ozone days are a lot of sunshine and light winds. We're getting about 14 hours of sun during the day, and very, very light winds. So that windless sunlight cooks these organic compounds coming out of cars into ozone, there's nowhere for them to go, they sit over the Valley. This ridge of high pressure that's caused weak winds over the Valley is breaking down. This is probably the last day we will have to worry about this. But the problem has been, we've had very weak winds over the Valley for the last three days.

Ted Simons: The Valley, when we hear about ozone watches and warnings in the Valley, what about other parts of the state?

Randy Cerveny: Believe it or not, the problems we can have here can be advected, moved all the way out to places like Yuma. The ozone recorded at Yuma and Bullhead City over the last few days has been very high over there, as well, because of us.

Ted Simons: Because of us.

Randy Cerveny: The winds are slowly pushing some of that material over us towards the western part of the state.

Ted Simons: So sunshine does make a difference, it cooks these gases into a ground level ozone. The wind can disburse it a little? Why is the wind a factor, as well?

Randy Cerveny: The winds are the disbursement. So if we don't have wind, it sits over the Valley and we have to take it in and breathe it and that kind of thing. It's when we get a low pressure system or some kind of stronger pressure gradient moving across the Valley that we can start to push this out. Then it gets disbursed with the rest of the atmosphere and becomes less of a problem.

Ted Simons: I've got to tell you, I don't remember as a kid growing up and hearing about ozone in particular. But ozone warnings and watches in general. Is this a relatively new situation here?

Randy Cerveny: Unfortunately, it is. It's really come to fruition in the last, say, to years, and it's due to the growth of the Valley. As we have more and more people, more and more cars and more and more things that are producing these volatile gases that can be cooked into ozone, the greater the potential for having an ozone accidence. The greater the population and the number of vehicles producing the gases, the more likely we are going to have these things happening.

Ted Simons: It's always been there, just not in this abundance. Because more people, more cars, more exhaust, et cetera?

Randy Cerveny: Exactly.

Ted Simons: We can't let you go without some thoughts about the monsoon. You can't tell me what kind of monsoon we're going have, can you?

Randy Cerveny: Unfortunately, that's our hardest season of the year to forecast. All the precursors we normally like to look at, what's going on in the Pacific Ocean or the snowcover across the United States, they just have not been a good indicator of what’s happening this year. We are going to have above normal temperatures this summer, but probably near-normal precipitation.

Ted Simons: You can't say if we have a lot of high temperatures early, that means X, or if you have low temperatures early, that means Y? Because I thought The high temperatures kind of suck up the warm air from Mexico?

Randy Cerveny: They do, they are a critical aspect of creating the monsoon circulation. The deserts heat up and draw in the air from the Pacific. But the problem is the direction that air is drawn in, the exact place where the hottest temperatures is part of the equation. Those things are happening on a day-to-day localized basis and it makes it really hard to forecast.

Ted Simons: I'll let you go on that one. Good to see you. Thank you for joining us.

Randy Cerveny: My Pleasure.