KNAU and Arizona News
3:00 am
Thu October 25, 2012

Senate candidates weigh in on climate change, uranium mining

Health care, immigration and jobs are all headliner issues in the race for Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat.

A topic that hasn’t grabbed much attention is the environment.

Arizona Public Radio asked environmental and business groups what questions they would like to ask the candidates about environmental issues.

Steve Arnquist, executive director of the Arizona League of Conservation Voters, asked this question:

“I think environmentalists in Arizona want to know, do you believe that climate change is happening both on our planet and here in the southwest and in Arizona, and if so what legislation would you support to address this problem?”  

Here’s what the candidates had to say about the first part of that question – is climate change real?

First, we’ll hear from Jeff Flake. He’s a Republican congressman running for the Senate.

“Certainly, nobody can deny that we’ve had several years of warmer temperatures. If that signals just a routine change that is manmade or not, I don’t think anybody can say definitely.”

And here’s Democrat Richard Carmona…

“Absolutely climate change is occurring. Some of it is naturally occurring and some of it occurs because of human consumption of various fuels and we contribute to that.”

So, where do the candidates stands on legislation that addresses climate change?

Rich Carmona says requirements for green energy portfolios and emission trading plans are all Band-aids.

“We need a comprehensive energy policy which we don’t have,” he says. “We need to look out over the horizon of 20 or 30 years and look at all of the options we have with coal, with traditional fossil fuels, with nuclear, and renewables which are catching on, but they’re still not quite there. How we do that is to have a strategic plan that moves us away from the fossil fuels over time and generates new industries in renewables over time.” 

Jeff Flake says he opposes new EPA regulations that limit carbon emissions for coal-fired power plants.

And he’s against a carbon emission trading plan favored by President Obama.

“What I would support is legislation that makes us more prosperous,” he says. “When you have economies that are prosperous, then people can afford to make choices that benefit the environment.”

I also asked the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club what issues are on their radar in the U.S. Senate race.

Sara Johnson, a volunteer with the Sierra Club in Flagstaff, had this question for the candidates.

“Do you support permanently protecting lands around the Grand Canyon from uranium mining?”

Over the last decade, uranium claims have risen on public and private land near the park.

In January, the Obama administration banned new uranium mining claims around the Grand Canyon for the next 20 years.

Republican Flake has sponsored legislation opposing the ban.

Flake says mining in the Arizona Strip, north of the Grand Canyon park boundary, will create jobs.

“You’ll see ads running claiming that Jeff Flake wants to mine in the Grand Canyon,” he says. “For those who say that, I say, ‘let’s pitch in and buy them a map.’ This is not in the Grand Canyon. This is in the Arizona Strip.”  

Carmona recently launched TV ads criticizing Flake’s support of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.

He says mining in the area could contaminate the Colorado River, the source of drinking water for millions of people downstream.

While Carmona supports the 20-year moratorium, he stops short of supporting a permanent ban.

“I approach this problem like I would any mining company that would come in. Justify for me why you want to do that, what is the benefit to society and the public, what would be the environmental impact?” he says. “I’m happy to speak to anybody in the future, but that would be untenable now.” 

The Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have both endorsed Richard Carmona.

In our second report tomorrow, business organizations will put their environmental questions to the candidates.