By Elizabeth Whitman | Phoenix New Times
An industry-backed bill that would curb the ability of Arizona’s cities and towns to mitigate climate change at the local level sailed through the Arizona House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon.
If it becomes law, HB 2686 would prevent Arizona cities or towns from imposing greater fees or restricting permits for buildings that use certain utilities, like gas. None actually do that now, but the bill would stymie future efforts by local municipalities to mandate cleaner energy and air.
Cities and towns “may not deny a permit application based on the utility provider proposed,” the bill reads. Municipalities are also prohibited from charging higher permit fees for some utilities than others, it says, and they are barred from passing codes or ordinances that could “have the effect of restricting a person’s or entity’s ability to use the services of a utility provider.”
In a state that is no stranger to pre-emption laws, the bill’s opponents, including the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, resent the state’s attempt to interfere with local policymaking.
“It’s premature for the state to be jumping in,” said State Representative Kirsten Engel, a Democrat who represents Tucson and who voted against the bill, emphasizing that no municipalities in Arizona are currently trying to do so.
“You’re taking away the ability of cities and towns to say, ‘We’re going to limit our fossil fuel footprint of the future,’” Engel added.
The proposed legislation has moved briskly through the legislative process. In back-to-back procedural moves, HB 2686 passed the Committee of the Whole before clearing the full House in a 36-23 vote. A companion bill in the Senate, SB 1222, could potentially receive similarly quick treatment, perhaps as soon as Thursday.
The legislation is sponsored by two of Arizona’s most powerful state lawmakers and backed by Southwest Gas, which sells natural gas service to 2 million people in Arizona, California, and Nevada.