As the sixth largest state, Arizona has a lot of land, and a lot of desert. Situated at the heart of the scorching American Southwest, Arizona regularly clocks in as one of the hottest states in the country and is home to the two hottest cities in the United States. As the Earth warms, Arizona’s 7.3 million residents face life-threatening rising temperatures and ever-dwindling water supplies. In 2021, 113 confirmed heat-related deaths in Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix) was double 2020’s number. Arizona’s homeless population will be particularly vulnerable to this health hazard. The dry, hot terrain also contributes to the state’s ongoing megadrought, which adds to a whole host of issues including the diminishment of the Colorado River, which supplies water to over a third of Arizona’s population. As temperatures have risen and drought intensified, wildfires have grown larger and burn more severely.
Arizona’s energy trends lend some hope, however. Per capita energy consumption in Arizona is already among the lowest in the nation, and the state is uniquely poised for a switch to renewable and clean energy. It has some of the best solar resources in the country and produces the nation’s highest-grade uranium — crucial for nuclear energy generation. Arizona has put this resource to work in the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the nation’s largest nuclear power plant. Palo Verde generates more electricity annually than any other U.S. plant, second only to the Grand Coulee Dam in total electricity generating capacity. Fossil fuels, unfortunately, continue to play a significant role. Since 2018, Arizona has reduced its dependency on coal but shifted to natural gas, which has become the state’s largest single energy source — generating one third of it’s power. The rest of the state’s energy comes from renewable sources, with a special emphasis on solar. Arizona ranks 5th in the nation for total solar installations.
In 2006, Arizona’s Climate Change Advisory Group was charged with preparing an inventory and forecast of Arizona’s greenhouse gas emissions and developing a Climate Change Action Plan with recommendations on how to reduce the state’s emissions. The report included a comprehensive set of 49 policy options.
By September of 2021, Arizona does not yet have a statewide adaptation plan despite the fact that they are the fourth-fastest warming state in the country. Local communities have taken up the battle as best they can. In 2009, Phoenix, the 2nd fastest warming city in the U.S., completed its Climate Action Plan, which it plans to update by the end of 2021. Its goals: to become a carbon-neutral city by 2060 operating on 100% clean energy, with new buildings being net positive by 2050, and significant greenhouse gas reduction targets between 2025 and 2050. In July, 2020, Flagstaff declared a climate emergency. In September 2020, Tucson, the third fastest warming city in the nation, also declared a climate emergency and will implement a decade long plan, “Framework for Advancing Sustainability,” to become carbon neutral by 2030.
Arizona lawmakers don’t make change easy. For example, in January of 2020, The Arizona Committee on Natural Resources and Energy voted to stop cities from prohibiting construction of natural gas-powered buildings.
In August, 2020, a highly anticipated meeting of the Arizona Corporation Commission ended abruptly, amid disputes over a roadmap to clean energy. In May, 2021 Arizona’s utility regulators rejected new rules that would have required most of the state’s electricity providers to get 100% of their power from clean energy sources by 2050 to limit carbon emissions and address climate change. Later that month the ACC, voted 3-2 to restart a rule-making process to establish a 100% clean energy standard for the state. The commissioners are expected to vote on a final rule in the fall of 2021. Don’t hold your breath.
Or read the Sierra Club’s 2021 Environmental Report Card for the Arizona Legislature and Governor.