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Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Participants of the annual Fourth of July Downtown Mile break from the starting line Wednesday Morning on San Fransisco Street in Flagstaff.

Flagstaff marches in red, white and blue for the Fourth

Red, white and blue flooded downtown Flagstaff July 4 as spectators gathered to watch floats, dancers and bands prance down San Francisco and Beaver Street at the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce Fourth of July parade.

Kristina Rolfe, a Flagstaff resident for eight years, along with her children and her in-laws, were among the estimated 20,000 that came to celebrate America’s Independence Day.

“I like the free stuff that they hand out, the pizzazz, the flair, just the overall community getting together and the excitement of the day,” said Rolfe. “No matter what our political opinions are, races, all the differences that make American unique, you can have one day where everybody celebrates together.”

Her mother-in-law, Jayne Rolfe, is visiting from New Zealand and arrived at the parade at 7:30 a.m. to ensure a good view to see her son, Kristina’s husband, who participated in the parade with the Northern Arizona Rugby Football Club.

“In New Zealand we don’t have anything like this, and it’s really, really good to see a country come together,” said Jayne Rolfe. “It’s so wonderful to see that so many people were here so early and the pride that they have in their country.”

Among the 100 floats was one from Grand Canyon National Park, with two horses leading the way as park rangers handed out pieces of candy advertising their fee-free days.

“We did this last year for the first time ever, it was a lot of fun so we decided to come back here again,” said outreach coordinator Vanessa Cejas. “We had a great, great reaction from the crowd.”

She also noted how the parade helps to spread the word about national parks.

“This gives us an opportunity for exposure and visibility, and especially for kids that don’t know anything about national parks, or don’t really see rangers on a daily basis,” Cejas said. “It’s a great opportunity for those interactions.”

Russ Furstnow, a Flagstaff resident and Ford Model T aficionado, has participated in the parade with his friends and family for 10 years with a variety of cars that were all built between 1911 and 1927.

“People are amazed to see a car over 100 years old even driving,” said Furstnow. “It’s kind of amazing to see a car that’s this old, and it’s a tribute to the old Model T itself.”

While Furstnow brings his cars to various shows and tours around the country, he’s especially proud to participate in this parade to celebrate the United States.

“The Fourth of July parade is obviously to promote our love for this country, and being proud to be an American and be part of country,” he said. “Flagstaff is a very high-destination place for people to come and see the parade and celebrate our Fourth of July birthday.”

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

The Shadows Foundation float navigates the streets of downtown Flagstaff Wednesday morning during the annual Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce Fourth of July Parade.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

A young stormtrooper walks along Aspen Avenue Wednesday morning during the annual Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce Fourth of July Parade.

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Renewable energy push in sunny Arizona draws political fight

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona's largest utility is fiercely opposing a push to mandate increased use of renewable energy in the sun-drenched state, setting up a political fight over a measure funded by a California billionaire.

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona aims to ask voters whether they want the state Constitution to require half of Arizona's electricity come from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2030. The group plans to file more than 225,000 signatures Thursday get the question on the November ballot.

Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer is financing the initiative through his NextGen Climate Action group, which supported similar efforts in Nevada and Michigan. But only the Arizona measure spawned a political battle, with the Republican-controlled Legislature passing a rule to help insulate utilities and the parent company of the state's largest electricity provider bankrolling opposition messaging.

Steyer, known for climate advocacy as well as his push to impeach President Donald Trump, says he's backing the proposal because of the benefits it will bring to Arizona.

"It actually will lead to lower costs and save a lot of money for consumers," Steyer said. "It leads to clean air and a lot better health outcomes for Arizonans, and it should create literally tens of thousands of jobs in the state of Arizona. So it's hard to understand why these people are fighting it."

Supporters of the initiative say Arizona hasn't taken advantage of its role as the sunniest state in the nation to develop more solar energy, saying it derives just 6 percent of its energy from solar.

Arizona Public Service Co. says the proposed constitutional amendment will cause customers' utility rates to skyrocket and harm reliability.

Its parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corp., funneled $1.18 million to Arizonans for Affordable Energy to oppose the initiative in the first three months of the year. Multiple chambers of commerce, Tucson Electric Power and Chicanos Por La Causa also oppose it.

"Everyone supports renewable energy," said Matthew Benson, spokesman for the utility-funded opposition initiative. "The question is whether we are going to have an Arizona plan that is created and implemented by Arizona leaders and officials, or whether we're going to have a plan crammed down our throats by a political activist from California."

Campaign finance records show Steyer's group gave $750,000 in cash and more than $200,000 in goods and services to the renewable energy campaign.

Opponents have used the #StopSteyer hashtag in the run-up to Thursday's deadline for petition signatures. Legislative Republicans also cast him as an "out-of-state billionaire" when they passed a law that limits the cost of not complying with renewable energy mandates.

Steyer disagrees that he's dictating policy. The National Resources Defense Council, Mi Familia Vota, and various in-state health and climate groups have endorsed the initiative as a way to bring more renewable energy to Arizona.

"When concentrated corporate interests put themselves and their bottom line ahead of the people, I don't like that," Steyer said. "And that's what I suspect is happening here. And I think the people of Arizona should be asked what they think, and that's what we're trying to enable."

Arizona is one of three states where the billionaire's NextGen Climate Action group pushed ballot initiatives for higher renewable energy standards. Nevada's measure hasn't drawn the same uproar, and the effort in Michigan ended after two utilities decided to increase investments in renewable energy.

Benson says Arizona is different partly because of the numbers — the Michigan initiative had a 30 percent renewable mandate compared with 50 percent in Arizona. The Arizona Corporation Commission already requires electric utilities to generate 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

APS also warned that the initiative's higher renewable standard would force its nuclear power plant to close. Nuclear wouldn't count toward the 50 percent mandate, and APS says its Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station is the largest electricity producer in the U.S.

Jeff Burke, APS director of resources planning, says customers would see 6 to 14 percent increases on their bills if the company is forced to ratchet up renewable use ahead of schedule.

"We continue to add renewables to our system, but they have to make sense," Burke said. "It's not really about a target, it's about what makes sense for our customers' usage and what makes rates affordable and what keeps our system reliable."

Thirty-two states with renewable standards didn't have, on average, a correlated rate increase, according to Wesley Hersche, an associate director of research with Arizona State University's Global Security Initiative.

"These issues involve a complex interaction of factors, and we should be careful not to oversimplify things," Hersche wrote in April. "But renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, and battery storage have become so cheap recently that this finding is not all that surprising."

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Weddings, events business gets Coconino County's nod as Frontiere property operator

The 20-acre Frontiere housing compound at the edge of Rogers Lake is set to be used as a venue for weddings and other special events like retreats and meetings.

The Coconino County Board of Supervisors gave the go-ahead last week for county staff to pursue contract negotiations with an entity called The Grounds at Frontiere to operate an events business on the county-owned property from April through October.

The housing compound borders Rogers Lake Natural Area and its buildings include a six-bedroom residence above a 16-stall equestrian stable, a three-bedroom caretaker quarters with a five-car garage and a 6,000 square-foot unfinished foundation. It was donated to the county in 2011 by the estate of the late St. Louis Rams owner Georgia Frontiere, who died in 2008.

Northern Arizona University operated a summer artist-in-residence program at the site from 2015 to 2018 and the county has occasionally rented it out for special events.

Jeannie O'Neal, who is behind The Grounds at Frontiere and crafted the business’s proposal, is a real estate agent and co-owns a commercial janitorial service with her husband. She also helps out at her daughter’s custom cake shop, where she has seen firsthand the need for wedding spaces.

“We hear from brides a lot that they just can't find a venue,” O’Neal said.

She plans to use the existing buildings on the Frontiere property and improve a stem wall to make a big outdoor patio. She also mentioned wanting to create a “rustic Flagstaff feel.”

“What's really important is that we want to maintain the integrity of the property and keep it as pristine because that’s the beauty if it,” she said.

That desire to minimize impacts to the site was among the positive attributes named by the county’s proposal evaluation committee, Nemeth-Briehn told county supervisors. The committee also noted that O’Neal had demonstrated business acumen and planned to pay the county increasing amounts each year under a revenue share model.

Two other entities also responded to the county's request for proposals to operate at Frontiere. One came from a nonprofit wanting to start up a residential treatment facility for substance-exposed newborns and their mothers.

But the county had concerns with the nonprofit’s lack of experience and the risk of operating a treatment facility in such a remote location where emergency responders could take awhile, Nemeth-Briehn told county supervisors.

The other proposal came from Horses for Hire, which had planned to establish a bed and breakfast as well as offer horseback rides, camping, ecotourism, a petting zoo and a tour bus stop. In that case, county staff brought up concerns about higher-than-desired impacts to the property itself, surrounding landowners and the adjacent conservation area, Nemeth-Briehn said.

Under its revenue sharing model, Horses for Hire proposed handing over about $147,000 to the county over five years, while The Grounds at Frontiere proposed a revenue share of about $92,000 over the first five years.

Revenue estimates for the nonprofit treatment facility were unknown.

The county will now enter into contract negotiations with The Grounds at Frontiere. Nemeth-Briehn said she hopes the two parties can reach an agreement and get a draft contract to the board of supervisors for final approval by August.

For their part, county supervisors stressed that they want the contract to include an initial lease term of only a few years, after which the arrangement would be evaluated before subsequent contract renewals. They also wanted to reduce what the county has to play for replacements, repairs and maintenance on the property and ensure the use furthers the county’s conservation values in the Roger’s Lake area.

There was no public hearing during the supervisors’ evaluation of the Frontiere proposals last Tuesday because it was part of a procurement process.

Judge's ruling slows plans for Medicaid work requirement

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration's drive to wean poor people from government benefits by making them work has been slowed by a federal judge framing a fundamental question: Are poverty programs meant to show tough love or to help the needy?

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg in Washington last week halted Kentucky's first-in-the-nation experiment with Medicaid work requirements, ruling that the Trump administration glossed over potential coverage losses. He sent the state's plan back to federal authorities for a harder look.

The debate goes well beyond Medicaid, the federal-state health program for low-income and disabled people.

This spring, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing cabinet agencies to add or strengthen work requirements for programs including subsidized housing, food stamps and cash welfare. The government's biggest assistance program for low-income people — the Earned Income Tax Credit — is already designed to supplement earnings from work.

Boasberg found that "medical assistance" is by law a "central objective" of Medicaid. While work requirements might be allowable if that's what a state wants, "there may be limits to how much (coverage) loss is too much," he wrote.

Kentucky's Republican Gov. Matt Bevin wanted to impose work requirements on some 428,000 state residents who got Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act's expansion. Optional for states, the expansion passed under former President Barack Obama covers about 12 million people nationally, mainly adults.

Kentucky expanded Medicaid under a Democratic governor. Bevin argues that the cost is unsustainable for his state, even with Washington paying at least 90 percent of the bill, because many more people signed up than initially expected. The state estimated that work requirements would save money, reducing the Medicaid rolls by about 95,000 people over five years.

That number got the judge's attention.

Boasberg ruled that the federal Health and Human Services department didn't dig deeply enough into the potential coverage losses. The department "paid no attention to that deprivation," he wrote, and "this oversight is glaring," amounting to rubber-stamping the state's request.

Although state and federal officials contend that many people leaving Medicaid would find private coverage, Boasberg said there was no hard analysis, no "bottom-line estimate."

The ruling seemed to catch the Trump administration unprepared.

Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, called it "disappointing." The administration may appeal, or it may re-run its evaluation of the Kentucky plan to meet the judge's concerns. Medicaid work requirements in a few other states are unaffected.

However, the ruling may make it much harder to approve work requirements in states that have not expanded Medicaid. In such states, Medicaid recipients would face a high risk of losing health care because even paltry earnings could make them ineligible for continued coverage.

Verma said the administration won't be deterred from nudging the poor to go to work.

"We will continue to support innovative, state-driven policies that are designed to advance the objectives of the Medicaid program by improving health outcomes for thousands of low-income Americans," she said in a statement. Work improves health, the administration argues.

The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that about 60 percent of adults with Medicaid are already working, and among those not working, most either have health problems, are taking care of home or family or are students.

Advocates for low-income people say they feel like a corner has been turned, even if the issue is far from settled.

"What's particularly significant is that the judge basically said you have to look at the purpose of Medicaid, which is to provide coverage," said Judy Solomon of the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Work requirements "were outside the core objectives of the Medicaid program, and he basically said you can't ignore the core objectives."

Others point out that the judge stopped short of deciding the merits of the case, focusing instead on problems with the process that HHS followed in approving Kentucky's request.

Matt Salo, executive director of the nonpartisan National Association of Medicaid Directors, said work requirements may serve the purposes of Medicaid in some states, particularly if that helps convince conservative lawmakers to expand coverage to more uninsured people.

"There's a broader issue at play here about maintaining political support and the sustainability of the program," said Salo. "Does the inability to do a work requirement lead to a scenario where Kentucky is going to get rid of the entire expansion?"

So far that hasn't happened, but Bevin did cut Medicaid dental and vision coverage in response to the judge's ruling.

The case is Stewart vs. Azar.